Monday, 20 February 2012

a different kind of victory garden.

There is something really exciting happening in Hamilton! Hamilton Victory Gardens are in their second official year of operation, and I am so excited to be involved.

For one thing, I am looking forward to digging my hands into soil again - I had a garden when I was younger that ended up with my dad taking care of it and a cucumber takeover. More importantly though, this is an amazing model for holistic community development.

Hamilton Victory Gardens is an urban gardening project where the harvest goes to food banks as well as the surrounding community. It involves people who live in the neighbourhood as well as those who use the food banks so it is a real community effort. I went to the first meeting of the season last week and I was truly impressed with the mission of this organization. One of the things that I was most taken with was their emphasis on having this be a truly communal effort; one of the speakers was a man named Carl, who was a patron of the Good Shepherd food bank and became involved in the Victory Garden in order to contribute.

That is something that really makes this project stand out. Rather than simply providing people with handouts (although they are much fresher and healthier handouts than typical food bank fare!), the gardens allow people to take ownership of their situation and provides autonomy and a sense of purpose for those in need. A project like this has the ability to change the tone of a community – people feel like they are involved in something, and they are also reaping the rewards of their work. The garden is in the north end of the city, and of the things that the speakers noted last week was that they had never encountered any problems with vandalism or people interfering with their crops. It seems people appreciate having empty lots turned into useful, beautiful areas.

It is such a simple, exciting idea! And there are a ton of ways that this can grow and really make an impact, including evolving into a business endeavor for those in the community, and a community event center (see Hill St. Community Garden for the potential that urban agriculture has!)

This isn’t just a good idea for addressing poverty though.  As a culture, we are very separated from the food that we eat - where it comes from, how it is made, what it is made of. The ability to grow your own food isn't just a useful skill for those who are short on it. When I go to pick up groceries I often marvel at modern, Western conveniences. Around the corner I can get Mini-Wheats at ANY hour of the day or night. And I do. In the scope of all the people who have lived, and all of the people on the planet now, our way of life is incredibly unique – it has to be, it’s not very sustainable.

This year, Hamilton Victory Gardens plans to add six more locations, and provide ten times more produce than last year - so there is plenty of room for helping hands, both clean and dirty!