If you love food ENOUGH, you might like to grow some of your own. If you are growing some of your own food, you’ll likely want to grow more and grow smarter, not harder. If you grow food for a living (a.k.a. FARM – the verb), you will ALWAYS look for better ways to do that.
March is the time when Canadian grower’s collective thumbs start to twitch and turn green with envy of people in warmer climes who are already “digging in” to a fresh season. This post provides some ideas to support you in your quest to grow food in Alberta whether you are just sprouting your green thumb, already a seasoned gardener or one of our few treasured and oh so dedicated farmers.
Sprouting a green thumb
I grew up with wonderful gardeners who grew a tremendous amount of food for our family. My maternal grandfather grew up on a hops farm in England, kept an acre of vegetables on his own land and was a professional gardener for the former Canadian Pacific Hotel’s Algonquin Resort in St. Andrews, New Brunswick – in its glory days. My Dad is alive and well and I think having his gardens keeps him that way. Both Dad and “Pappy Holliday” have/had a lot of land to work with. I have always had the challenge of very small spaces to garden in and so I bought Square Food Gardening by Mel Bartholemew and learned to grow a lot in a little space. I highly recommend Bartholemew’s books. You can get them here. They will guide you step by step on how to plan, plant and harvest a garden. Here’s a picture of some veggies I harvested from one of my square foot beds.
Here’s one of Dad’s three gardens.
Once you start gardening you will want access to the best seeds possible. I think one of the most interesting sources of seeds is something called Seedy Saturday. There are over 100 Seedy Saturdays across Canada each year. The idea was started in Canada in 1989 by Sharon Rempel, an agronomist, who when charged with planting a heritage garden, could find no heritage seeds. She started a Seedy Saturday so that heritage/heirloom seed savers could share or sell their seeds with other growers. Great gardeners have always saved the seeds from the plants that do the best each year. This is not new. Having a forum to share them like this is relatively new. The events often have many booths where you can learn about gardening and the tools and know-how you’ll need. I have bought worm-casting fertilizer, heirloom tomato plants and the most wonderful shallot sets ever at the Calgary event.
There are three Seedy Saturday events in Alberta for 2013 that I found as follows:
Calgary – Saturday, March 16, 10 A.M. – 3 P.M. at Hillhurst/Sunnyside Community Hall, 418- 7 Ave NW
Edmonton, Sunday, March 17, 11 A.M. – 4 P.M., Alberta Avenue Community Hall, 9210- 118 Ave N.W.
Red Deer –Saturday April 6, 10 A.M.-5:30 P.M. Red Deer College-Margaret Parson Theatre
The Seasoned Gardener
If you’ve been gardening for a while, you can’t help but admire nature. You start to notice the birds, bees and butterflies who help pollinate your plants. You notice which plants need more water and which ones will grow in slight shade versus full sun. You welcome lady bugs to your garden and frown at little white butterflies that eat the leaves of your plants.
Nature has such brilliant designs its humbling to witness them. This is where a concept known as permaculture comes in. The goals of permaculture are to mimic the patterns and designs of nature and grow maximal food with no waste and to share excess with others. Permaculture was founded by an Australian named Bill Mollison. You can read an interview by Scott London to learn more about Mollison, the origins of permaculture and its impact and scope here. It’s quite fascinating.
Alberta has a few bright young permaculturists. I’ve written about Leaf Ninjas before and will be taking an urban agriculture tour group to see them in action later this spring. Tickets to that outing are available here – just ask for City Palate’s June 9 “Food in the City” Tootle. Luke Kimmel and his team at Leaf Ninjas are both SPIN farmers and permaculture design consultants and permaculture landscape installers as well. Verge Permaculture owned by Rob and Michelle Avis, two engineers, is another solution oriented permaculture group offering design certification courses and workshops across the province. We visited the Avis’s permaculture-designed home and garden on last year’s City Palate Urban Agriculture tour. Here are a few pictures from that tour.
There are lots of gardening workshops given by horticultural clubs across our country and I have taken several and learned much. I highly recommend them as the “next step” in knowledge acquisition if you are going from a few pots or small patch to maybe a large home garden or plot in a community garden. I give huge kudos to The Calgary Horticulture Society for being the reason Calgary went from 12 Community Gardens a few years ago to close to 300 now. You can see what kind of offerings they have here and if you live anywhere else just Google your local hort society as a starting point.
If you are really serious about growing a lot of food in a sustainable way read on. If you want to access and contribute to a solution-oriented methodology for both your own needs and the needs of our planet, I would encourage you to explore permaculture in more depth and this next section describes a couple of ways you can do that.
Two of the most exciting things I see going on in farming right now are the rise of urban farms through a method called SPIN farming and the application of permaculture design to traditional family farm homesteads as a means of sustaining that way of life. You can catch up on what SPIN farming is and how-to do it here.
This could be a very exciting time for small farms in Alberta. In just two weeks Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms is coming to High River and Calgary, Alberta to give two evening talks and three day-long workshops with the workshops accessible by live-stream anywhere globally. No pressure Joel!
The big idea is that Salatin speaks “farm-ese” and has a proven track record of being able to teach farmers how to either start and/or succeed on their own “beyond organic”, small-scale farms. He has written eight books on this subject and his own 450 acre farm grosses 200 million dollars annually. The conference organizers say that “…as Salatin has watched the worsening impact of chemically based,industrial agriculture on the quality of food, public health, and the environment, he’s became a man on a mission, spreading his commitment to sustainable agriculture in workshops and talks around the world and that he believes he is in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture.”
The three days of workshops based on his books of the same title are as follows:
You Can Farm
Pastured Poultry Profits
Salad Bar Beef
The dates are March 20, 21 and 22, 2013 at Highwood Memorial Centre, 128 5 Ave W, High River, AB
The two community networking events are based on his popular books, “The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer” and “Folks, This Ain’t Normal” and represent a chance for food producers, consumers and farm supporting organizations to mingle and sample a taste of local farm products.
The Evening Presentation information is as follows:
● The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer, March 20th, 2013, 6:30 pm Highwood Memorial Centre,128 5 Ave W, High River
● Folks, This Ain’t Normal, March 22nd, 2013, 6:30 pm, SAIT Campus, Orpheus Theatre
Tickets to and more information about all of these events including the live-streaming internet broadcast is available here.
I have no plans of becoming a farmer. I am going to the full day workshop entitled, You Can Farm, because I work with a lot of farmers. I love my farming friends and I want to understand their lives and things that can give them hope. I’m excited to meet Salatin and hear him speak. It’s always a great thing to find someone so inspiring.
So, this next few weeks, I may pop up with a lot of posts about farming and growing food because, quite frankly, if we don’t savour our farms and farmers, we won’t be able to savour our food let alone savour our lives.
Here’s a little taste of Joel Salatin for you to savour. Maybe I’ll see you at the conference?