The revolution is local: Why you should grow food and not lawns

Hello, everyone, good evening. My journey towards
sustainability began with a tomato plant. I was living in a basement apartment at
the time and my upstairs neighbors had bought too many seedlings and wondered
if I would like to have one. I had no idea what I was doing so I planted it, neurotically watered it, documented every flower as it emerged and then I wondered
with what started out as a teeny plant became nearly taller than I was.
I wasn’t truly hooked however, until I bit into that first ripe tomato. And
after that first taste, I asked myself a question, how do I grow more food? I didn’t know it at the time, but that question
was a turning point in my life. Flash-forward 15 years and I have
an urban food forest in my front yard. My husband and I got rid of our front lawn and replaced it with an orchard of fruit trees and shrubs. When we planted all of it, we asked ourselves,
how do we grow more food? So we got honeybees to help pollinate those fruit trees. We participated in the Edmonton’s urban beekeeping pilot project and helped change the bylaw in 2015 to allow beekeeping in the city –
thank you all for your work with that. With all of this produce, I ended up with a lot of yard waste so I became a Master Composter/Recycler in order to learn how to convert that waste
into a rich soil amendment that would help us grow more food. I helped start a
community garden in my neighborhood called the Sunshine Garden and loved it
so much I became its coordinator last year. I’m also in a chicken cooperative with my neighbors and together we spoil four backyard chickens in exchange for eggs and lots of fertilizer. I didn’t set out to become an urban farmer
but I’m now that person who ends up with too many seedlings
and gives them away. Now, looking beyond my property line, it turns out that asking how we might grow more food is an important question for everyone to consider.
Here in Alberta, they predict that we will continue to receive more rain when we don’t want it
and not enough when we do to grow crops. It was a tough time to be a traditional farmer this year, with the 55 days of rain we experienced in the summer. Now food production is not just an Albertan problem and it is connected to greenhouse gas emissions. Take this apple I brought on stage. According to the sticker, it was grown in New Zealand in what I assume is a large monoculture farm. It was harvested, stored, packaged, shipped
and then flown to my grocery store, which I drove to in order to get this snack. This apple represents many of the reasons
why global food production is a driving factor in greenhouse gas emissions.
It is tasty though, isn’t it? That’s why I bought it. Well, scarcity demands creativity.
Many vegan baking recipes came from the war era when there were no eggs or butter available.
So the time is ripe – pun intended – for some creative, proactive actions. And while climate change is impacting food production,
I wonder if we might flip the equation where local food production might help mitigate some of the effects of climate change. Take this other apple. This apple was grown
in my front yard in which we have more than 20 varieties of fruits and vegetables.
Rainwater is what watered my apple tree. The honeybees I have helped pollinate it. The compost I create from my food scraps help fertilize it. And all I needed was a little space and patience and this apple required no greenhouse
gas emissions to get to my plate. In fact, thanks to photosynthesis, it even absorbs some. So what does participating in
local food production look like? Well, beyond having a vegetable garden,
which is fabulous, it can also involve having chickens or bees like I do, which is a growing trend. As of this year, the City has issued
221 bee licenses and 89 chicken licenses. But if you’re not into chicken poop or
bee stings – I get it – it can be simpler. Grow a few pots of lettuce on your windowsill. Purchase your produce from community supported agriculture projects like Riverbend Gardens
or visit a local farmers market. Support restaurants that use
locally sourced meats and vegetables. Or join one of Edmonton’s 90 community gardens if you don’t have space or, in my case run out of growing space., In fact, participating in local food can be as simple as checking where your apples come from and picking the one that’s from the nearest region. There are benefits far beyond to
reducing greenhouse gas emissions for this. First of all, biodiversity is the
sign of a healthy ecosystem. Monocultures like lawns are food deserts for most of the year. The more types of life you see in a space, the more types of critical life you can’t.
Soil microbes and fungi, worms and other decomposers, pollinators, insects,
birds that feed on those invertebrates. Healthy, biodiverse ecosystems are more
resilient in the face of climate change. Growing your own food also retains water
more than traditional urban landscapes. Gardens can act as water sinks which can help prevent flooding. This in turn creates rich, moist soil that is alive and capable of
sustaining more types of life, like food. Demand for local food also fosters and
strengthens the growth of local food economies. Your individual purchasing power is
stronger than you might think. Single-use plastics like straws weren’t eliminated by Edmonton businesses until there was strong local demand from people like us
for better alternatives. Finally, and most importantly,
local food builds community. We can’t change this climate crisis on our own.
Buying your carrots from the person who grew them, or showing up for a community garden work party,
evolves those individual consumer demands into something larger and much more powerful
than the sum of its parts. Climate change mitigation is a multi-faceted issue with no simple single solution. It’s such a complex issue that I can’t wrap my mind around it and, honestly, it keeps me up at night. So if you’re asking yourself, if you’re like me,
you’re wondering, what can I do? Me? One of nearly eight billion people. One of the answers is this: why not use our private and public spaces to grow food instead of lawns? Now I’m not saying a homegrown tomato or apple can help change the world, but what if it could? What if we redirected all of the resources that municipalities and individuals put into lawns, all that time and energy and water and money,
and we use that to grow food? Let’s plant apple trees instead of Dutch Elm.
Let’s choose Evans cherries instead of mountain ash. Let’s water vegetables in pots instead of annual flowers. Let’s create naturalized spaces
that enhance biodiversity. Let’s embrace dandelions and the critical nourishment. My thesis is this: let’s open our minds to the beauty and the bounty that is local food production. That, my friends, would be very tasty indeed.
Thank you.

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