Can Urban Gardening Reduce Food Insecurity?
Maybe a bit, for a brief season each year.
I really wanted to write an article about how community gardens, patio planters, and re-growing veggies from grocery store cuttings would help people living on a low income to access a healthy, cheap food source. The thing is, it’s not nearly enough. People need access to healthy, affordable food year-round, and in a place like Edmonton, having a green thumb is not the key to food security.
Please don’t misunderstand: I love gardening. Pulling a bright orange, crunchy sweet carrot out of the earth is a special pleasure that I hope everyone gets to experience. Trading a zucchini for some ripe tomatoes with the lady down the street feels like winning the lottery. Seeing butterflies and bees snooping around our flowers makes me feel like some kind of eco-hero – I’m helping the pollinators, hooray for me!
I know that there are skilled people who are able to grow vast amounts of in very small spaces, who dehydrate and can and make jam and stock up for the winter. I grew up with a cold storage room filled with jars of cherries, peaches, tomatoes, dill pickles, and bins of apples and potatoes that lasted until the new year. I regret not learning those skills, thinking them old-fashioned at the time. I also know that the circumstances of my life are not a good match for the time and effort required to prepare and preserve large quantities of food. I have lots of changing to do before I will be in a position to invest that much energy in growing and using my own food. I also know that people on severely limited incomes have even less time, energy, and supports to produce their own food.
I am privileged. I have enough resources and support to accomplish many things with few barriers. And still I find it hard to amass enough veggies to feed my family for more than a couple of weeks! Expecting people on a low income to invest large amounts of time and effort to provide fresh food for themselves as an alternative to accessing fresh food from our food system is not a reasonable expectation.
Please, join a community garden and fill your planters with gorgeous blooms. Hold workshops to learn how to preserve food. Practice meal planning and host collective kitchens. Celebrate and share in the abundance of the harvest with friends and neighbours. This is how strong communities are built. Just don’t expect poor people to grow a garden instead of receiving a living wage, purchasing healthy food, and participating as full members of our society.
Kathryn is the Manager of Community Development, Housing & Mental Health Division, with e4c.