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Helen Chesnut: Growing a remedy for food insecurity

The ultimate path to adequate supply is to grow more food where people live

In the early morning, when I venture out in the dark to retrieve the Times Colonist from the bottom of the driveway, it’s my habit to aim the beam of my flashlight through nearby bushes, on the off chance that a sharp-toothed, razor-clawed carnivore might take an interest in a warm breakfast walking by.

Though bears and cougars do roam the neighbourhood occasionally, the most startling creatures I’ve encountered so far in the dark of early morning have been a group of rather large raccoons digging for grubs in the front lawn.

Just over a week ago the flashlight beam did pick up a patch of furry white moving from under the bushes toward the lawn. Rabbits still in the garden. No hibernation for them.

Rabbits ate all my bush beans this year. Seeds of the same beans that I’d shared with a friend in the spring supplied her, over several seedings, with a long season of young beans — in containers, on her deck garden.

Plans for foiling the creatures next year are in place. By planting time in the spring, wire fencing exclusion cages will be ready to place over vulnerable plantings.

Challenging times. We’re well into December. The “holiday” season is barrelling toward us and, given the times, I have to wonder how everyone is feeling.

Among people I know, I’m not sensing an atmosphere of elation. Most of my friends have stopped following the news. It’s become too much. Brutal wars; the high cost of living; an urgent climate crisis. Insecurity appears to be a major theme of the times.

Food banks, overwhelmed by ever-increasing need, are currently sending out pleas for donations. Food insecurity has been a much-publicized issue in recent years, even in this affluent country.

Growing a remedy. Ever since listening to an interview with a researcher on food-security issues, the topic has haunted me. He pointed out that some food supplies may become increasingly uncertain with disruptions from drought in California and with diseases and insect pests afflicting vast farms that export food.

The interview ended with the same admonition evident in all the newspaper articles I’d read on the issue: The ultimate path to adequate supplies of fresh, nutritious food is to grow more food where people live and consume it.

One of my friends spent more than a month in early autumn trekking in Slovenia. A gardener, she was surprised and delighted at seeing food gardens everywhere she went — little pots growing something edible in all sorts of spaces.

On my street, about one third of the properties have food gardens, but in many of the surrounding neighbourhoods there is no sign of fruit trees or vegetable plots at all. Last year I visited a new friend in a rather posh subdivision, where the small gardens were all manicured shrubbery. He commented that nobody grows food there.

The food security researcher emphasized that almost everyone could grow something edible. A few pots of herbs on a windowsill. Something. Anything.

A garden plot is not even needed. My deck-gardening friend grows green salad vegetables, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, bush beans, berries and more in containers.

Many accomplished gardeners live on our beautiful island. In almost every neighbourhood there will be mentors able to initiate others into the joys of growing delicious food.

People like Bill Morgan. From his Brentwood Bay garden Bill has shared his vegetable and fruit-growing knowledge with friends and neighbours for many years. He has helped people set up food gardens and shared transplants of his favourite tomato varieties. He is a keen berry grower, promoting the cultivation of unusual delicacies like Cape gooseberry (ground cherry).

Children can become quickly captivated with growing something to eat. If there are young children among close neighbours or within the extended family, with the parent’s permission, consider a gift of a holiday card with seeds for a family’s or child’s favourite vegetable. Include a note promising to help in the spring with the planting and growing.

A new family on the street? If it seems appropriate, an offer of advice on setting up a small food growing plot might be welcome. Invite people over for a meal or snack of home-grown delectables. Who knows. You might hook a new gardener.