You know what I like about August? There are actually very few seed dates this month. This translates to two things: one, there isn’t enough time left in the season to plant much; and two, I get to focus on making flower bouquets instead of seeding in the greenhouse.
When Galen (the SOYL – Sustainable Opportunities for Youth Leadership Program Manager) told me that flowers were a big program at Fresh Roots, I was like, “pffffffft can’t eat flowers.” But then, one morning, I covered Isobel’s early shift harvesting and bunching blooms and now, I cannot get enough. I’m kind of obsessed. They fill me with colour and joy and I see it extend into the hands of our market goers. Flowers are amazing.
While very attractive to humans, flowers don’t appear to interest many pests besides insects, which is a huge bonus in the urban landscape. I cannot say the same for our veggies. We lost a full planting (about 60 heads) of kohlrabi, 90% of our broccoli and about 75% of our cauliflower to rodents. The disappearances happen almost over night. They’ve also started munching our ripening tomatoes but we have implemented some tech to try and prevent such massive losses. Other pressures unique to urban farming resulted in the loss of our entire snow pea crop, an average loss of about 60% of our kohlrabi plantings, and about 30% loss of our butter lettuce. Naturally, I expect some cream skimmed off the top with hands reaching through fences for a tomato or zucchini here and there, but I’ve witnessed people show up to the farm with huge buckets and knives, expecting to reap in the bounty of veggies planned and paid-for by our CSA members.
In addition to having our veggies taken, the Fresh Roots truck catalytic converter was swiped the day-of our last ICC market in July. This meant we couldn’t finish our harvest for the market so our shelves and CSA Veggie Boxes were a little scant.
Another pressure that is kind of funny has been a fisherman! We call him “worm dude” because he digs for worms in our freshly seeded beds. I had been wondering what was causing these circles of failed germination all over our beet beds, so when I saw him digging the other day I was relieved to learn we didn’t have another weird fungus on top of our ongoing club root and lettuce drop. That said, it has resulted in about 30% failed germination in our beets and carrots. Strangely, the crop circles have continued since I explained to him the effects of worm digging. Maybe he is not the only fisherman looking for bait.
It sounds like I have a lot to complain about right now, but it’s only because July and August are our busiest, and most productive months. With harvest comes reaping, and work, and sweat, and competition. These frustrations also come in-hand with growing food in the city. In permaculture we say farmers have to work with what we have, rather than against it. Stolen food and catalytic converters is an indication that our city is rife with food insecurity, poverty, and desperation. Right down the road from our flagship garden at Van Tech is the mobile home city that was recently threatened with eviction. Meanwhile, free-range rodents up the hill are living an organic lifestyle foraging our fields. The discrepancy is gut-wrenching.
Recently, the entire staff of Fresh Roots were invited to a workshop on anti-oppression. It was an impressively comprehensive guide to the key concepts and terminology used in identifying oppression, and was scheduled a couple weeks after Canada Day. This July, I witnessed the farm team digest what’s happening in the world around them and really apply their thoughts and feelings to it all. We have spent many of our harvest hours with our hands busy while our mouths discuss weird movies, what our band name would be, and also the continuing effects of Colonialism. Watching these ideas grow in the minds of young people, and then to witness them take action on them is nothing short of inspiring.
As an organization, Our Lady Fresh Roots is proactive and progressive in the way that it creates intern opportunities for youth and connects children with the source of their food. That said, there is so much space to grow! Recently, in an interview with the BC Association of Farmers Markets, Alexa (our Executive Director) and I were asked what it is like to be doing land-based work in light of the recent residential school findings and this incredible Indigenous Uprising that is happening. To be honest, it was hard to find the right words to answer that question. It means a lot for me, as a white person of mostly settler descent, to be doing land-based work to heal my own ancestral trauma. Doing land-based work also reminds me of my responsibility to commit to the process of interrogating my own complacence with colonialism, and challenges me further to work into allyship with the forever-keepers of this land I inhabit. Land-based work in a fraught and hectic urban environment highlights the inequity of food accessibility even further.
Once the tomato harvest is done in October and I have a moment to enjoy the cool fall breeze, I’ll tuck into some tea and commit time to taking the teachings the young folks on the farm team have offered me to the core team. That is what the off-season is all about. Until then, we shall continue to ruminate in the fields on gnarly turnips and heartfelt ideas about justice and equity.