10 05 06 Where are the Gardens - Jack Heppner

I have heard from various sources that vegetable gardens in North America are on the increase. But where are the gardens in Southeastern Manitoba?

It is not hard to make a case for growing your own vegetables close to home. First, because of our energy crisis, many are having second thoughts about the thousands of kilometers much of their food travels to get onto their dinner plates. Local gardens can eliminate many of these food-miles.

Second, many are concerned about how prepared they would be to access food in the event of a major transportation disruption. The recent airline shutdown in Europe because of the volcanic ash brought to light how much fresh fruit and vegetables, and even grain is transported by air. Panic buying emerged in some centers. Preserving food from local gardens can help to protect our access to food. 

Third, concern is increasing about the amount of chemicals present in the food we consume. Of course corporations swear that pesticides, herbicides and fungicides used in food production are harmless. Many don’t believe them any more than they believed the tobacco companies a few decades ago when they declared that cigarette smoke was not harmful to human health. Local, organic gardens can help to bypass this problem.

And fourth, many are growing weary – and somewhat bored – with in-season fruits and vegetables year-round available in supermarkets. Yes, tomatoes may be available all year round, but often they are more “notional” tomatoes than real ones. Local gardens can bring back the anticipation and delight of eating food “in season.” How delightful the first onion greens springing up in your back yard, or the first bite into a home-grown tomato!

For these reasons, and more, it seems logical that vegetable gardens should be springing up in Southeastern Manitoba in ever-increasing numbers. But where are they? As I walk or bike around Steinbach I find myself peeking into backyards with the hope of seeing vegetable gardens. Occasionally I am rewarded, but all too often I am disappointed.

There was a time, many moons ago, when it was assumed that people moving into town from wherever would quickly turn at least part of their backyards into vegetable gardens. But it seems we have developed past such agrarian aspirations. It’s too much of a bother, I guess, or too much work. Food is “cheap” in the supermarket. And besides, with 40 percent of our population living in apartments, they don’t own a square meter of soil on which to garden.

Here and there, however, I see hopes of a gardening comeback. Young people in their twenties and thirties, whose parents and even grandparents had already abandoned gardening well before they were born, are asking what it would take to grow a few vegetables. And community gardens are emerging where even “landless” people can grow food close to home.

I hope a bike ride around town five years from now in search of gardens will be more fruitful than the rides I now take.