As a child of Depression-era children, I experienced the annual toil of backyard gardening early on. Mostly reluctantly, and only because the alternative to spending summer Saturday mornings outside among the lettuces, carrots and beans was spending that time scrubbing toilets and cleaning the weekly hairball out of the shower drains.
Despite the eloquent persuasiveness of that choice, no under-18s in the household at that time considered weeding a privilege.
Now, however, older, wiser and much busier, we find ourselves spending time mucking around in the dirt to grow our own fodder. Our kitchen gardens range from year-round herbs for seasoning, to seasonal salad fixin’s, to more ambitious items such as vegetables and fruit.
Just having the time to muck around is a treat.
It also helps that produce you produce tastes better. Even a little garden parsley and rosemary in soup create freshness for the taste buds. Potatoes, peas, corn and carrots cooked and eaten within minutes of being picked exist in taste categories on their own.
There’s also the feeling of moral superiority and satisfaction of getting the ultimate scoop on the 100-mile diet. Footprints from garden plot to soup pot: 20. Carbon footprint: Zero.
You can’t get much more local than that.
Time was, any family with a bit of yard or balcony grew food of some sort. Whether it included potatoes, cabbages and rutabagas destined for a root cellar or runner beans, cucumbers and tomatoes to transform into pickles and preserves, growing your own was not just commonplace and expected, it was essential to survival.
Even households wealthy enough to afford to purchase all their food from local grocers, butchers and bakers had kitchen gardens — mostly tended by help, of course.
The area where I now live served as the produce bin to many of Victoria’s early wealthiest. They established farms and summer homes among the local hillsides and valleys. But when the Interurban electric rail line punched down the Saanich Peninsula to Deep Cove in 1913, it brought the city’s growing population of middle-class residents into the country. Soon, they, too, began to hanker after clean, quiet, fresh-smelling rural living — at least on a part-time basis.
The wealthy subdivided their properties, sold lots to cottage-seeking plebes and moved their own exclusive enclave up to the seclusion of Shawnigan Lake, which remains hard to get to even today if there’s snow or a crash on the Malahat.
The Depression and Second World War further encouraged backyard gardening.
Then packaged foods happened, and cars for almost everyone, and double-income families, and television, and all manner of other modern comforts. Focus shifted to conveniences quicker and easier than the snap of a just-picked peapod or the slippery crunch of a carrot pulled from the ground and scrubbed clean on a dewy lawn.
But weekend garden warriors seeking a wee bit of earth in which to grow green things may yet return to these former farmlands. Saanich proposed two new community gardens earlier this year. One is being built along the Gorge Waterway and another is planned for behind Commonwealth Pool. Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard also speculated on the record about turning part of the municipality’s recently acquired land at Panama Flats into a community garden. The Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable discusses this possibility in a policy paper on agriculture parks, released in January.
Such efforts combined would help reduce long waiting lists for community-garden plots in the region. It would help many more locals living in apartments and condos get back to their carrot, beet and rutabaga roots.
Not to mention, growing your own meal is a healthy, pleasant, productive way to avoid other tasks.
Like scrubbing toilets and cleaning drains.