Diet plays a massive role in human civilization. The foods we eat and where we get it from shapes how we live our life, yet we often don't even think about it. Growing food was once a necessity, now gardening is widely considered just a hobby. A hobby that has absolutely exploded in recent years.
Keep reading to learn more about where our food comes from, the benefits of growing your own food, and how to start a garden (even if you live in an apartment)!
How Agriculture Shaped Society
Humans starting forming agricultural societies about 10,000 years ago. Before that humans were mostly nomadic, depending on hunting and gathering for sustenance. The establishment of agriculture created a reliable food source that allowed humans to stay in one place for an extended period of time.
The ability to live in one place is a fundamental component of modern society. Having a permanent place to live is essential to being an active member of society. Getting a job, drivers license, healthcare, insurance, bank account, and even going to school require an address. Not to mention the emotional significance of having a home.
Of course agriculture has changed dramatically over the years. Livestock, new technologies, and genetic modification have all contributed to changes in how and what humans grow. However, arguably the most significant changes have been in the past 100 years, when the global food network completely exploded.
Where Does Our Food Come From
Up to 80% of our fresh fruit and vegetables are imported, over half of that coming from the United States. Our next biggest import partners are France, Italy, Brazil, and China respectively. The dependence on imports draws criticism due to the emissions created during transportation and concern about Canada's food security.
In reality Canada actually does yield a considerable amount of food, about 1.5% of the world's food is produced in Canada. Mainly grains, red meats, and dairy. In order for Canada to become less dependent on food imports we would either need to alter our diets or heavily invest in greenhouse growing, which would produce at least the same amount of emissions as importing, if not more.
Below is a map illustrating a broad overview of the global trade network. Only our partnership with the US is represented but the map is a great depiction of how complex the global food trade network is.
Next time you get home with a load of groceries, look at where each item is from as you unpack it!
A food desert is an area that lacks access to affordable nutritious food. They are typically in low income areas where residents have limited mobility. These neighbourhoods are unattractive to grocery stores and residents often end up having to rely on convenience stores for food, where the items are more expensive and options are limited. Most of the items are processed; and high in sugar and fats with have proven health consequences.
The next time you stop in a convenience store take a look around and imagine having to rely on that selection for the majority of your diet.
The responsibility to address food deserts relies on municipalities, not individuals. However, gardens may play a role in the solution. Some cities have addressed food deserts with fresh food carts and pop ups, but a neighbourhood garden with a work-for-food system may be another creative solution!
Benefits of Growing Your Own Food
The obvious benefit of growing your own garden is the increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, but there are other benefits as well. Many studies have shown that increased time outdoors can help improve anxiety and depression, reduce stress, and boost mood. It also helps improve hand strength and can be a great bonding activity when done with others!
Starting Seedlings Indoors
If you live here in Calgary, or anywhere else with short summers, you'll want to start your seeds indoors. It sounds like a lot but it's quite easy, and it gives your little plants the best chance possible at producing.
- Seedling Trays
- Light Source
Plants don't require many nutrients at the seedling stage so as long as you use a high quality soil mix you don't need to worry about fertilizer.
Once you've got everything you need, simply follow the instructions on the seed packet. Each variety will have it's own set of specifications to give it the best chance at germinating. Before you know it you'll be cooking up a stew with your own home grown veggies!
Check out Common Mistakes Made While Growing Seeds Indoors for an indepth run down of the do's and don'ts of starting seedlings indoors!
Gardening in the City
A common barrier to growing your own food is space. Producing a significant amount of food requires a decent amount of outdoor space that many people don't have access to, especially in urban areas. The good news is that many cities are developing creative ways to give their residents access to growing space.
Community gardens in urban areas are becoming more and more common. They may be at a park, a community center, or a vacant lot in the middle of a neighbourhood. Not only do they allow residents to grow their own food but they foster ties and bonds within the locale.
Here in Calgary, anyone with a location in mind can form a committee and apply to the city for a community garden permit. If approved, new gardens may be eligible for up to $5,000 in-kind support from The City.
Check your city's website to see how you can start a garden in your neighbourhood!
A green roof is a roof covered with vegetation.
In 2009 the city of Toronto enacted a bylaw requiring green roofs on new developments and additions larger than 2,000 m². Toronto was the first city in North America to put a green roof bylaw in place.
Not only do green roofs create growing space in urban areas but the host a number of other benefits as well:
- They improve energy efficiency. In the summer they absorb solar energy reducing the amount of energy needed to cool the building, and in the winter they insulate the roof and prevent heat loss.
- They reduce stormwater runoff. The growing substrate collects rainwater as it falls, any excess is filtered by the root systems and drains off slower and cleaner.
- They extend the life of the roof. They provide and extra layer of protection between the building and natural elements. This slows down wear, meaning the roof needs to be replaced much less often, saving money and materials.
Building a green roof is definitely not as easy as planting a garden, but supporting green roof bylaws in your municipality and electing environmentally conscious officials is a great start!
What are you growing this summer? Let us know in the comments below!