Sitting in the soon-to-emerge edible oasis of our backyard, I reflect on how much my life has changed since I quit my stable job in the federal government over two years ago. In my final year of my degree in environmental studies, I began working as a junior policy analyst in environmental policy. I spent five years in the government and had the chance to contribute to some really amazing projects. You’d think I was doing my dream job in environmental policy, but I felt constantly disconnected from the environment I had sworn myself to protect.
In 2011, my life began to change. I enrolled in a permaculture design course with the Permaculture Institute of Eastern Ontario. Permaculture is a term that merges the words “permanent” and “culture” or “agriculture”. It is a natural design system based on the principles of nature, and while it is typically used for garden and landscape design, it can be used to design anything (i.e. businesses, programs, lifestyles). It teaches you to work with nature rather than against it.
It was then that I met my partner, Alister. I moved into Lindenlea with him and we have been working with nature ever since. I quit my job in 2012 to follow my dream and passion of starting an ethical business helping people to reclaim their connection with nature through outdoor and environmental education in the city. We teach people to make their own natural and organic skin care products, basic wilderness skills like animal tracking, shelter building, and fire starting, and how to garden ecologically through garden workshops, programs, and permaculture design. We are door greeters to the wild and wonderful world of nature. Once we’ve opened the door and done the introductions, we can point you in the right direction for wherever it is you want to go.
There is something deep within each and every one of us that yearns for this (re)connection with nature. It’s in our blood. The human race evolved alongside plants and animals, and we knew their names and their uses. We knew them as friends, and as entities with distinct preferences and personalities. The concept of a weed is a very new concept, as we knew that every plant had a purpose. In fact, the term “weed” is very loosely defined as an “unwanted plant”. Therefore, what is considered a weed to me may not be considered a weed to you, and it can change depending on the location, context, or your goals.
Gardening is a really great way to reconnect with nature, and is scientifically proven to make you feel happier and more grounded. There is a growing movement (pun intended) in Ottawa and all over the world where people are starting to use the space they have to grow both beautiful and edible or medicinal plants. The lines between ornamentals, vegetables and weeds don’t exist the way we think they do. For instance, did you know that day lilies, hostas, and dandelions are all edible delicacies in certain cultures, that vegetables actually grow much more happily when they are grown with flowers and aren’t in rows, or that many wild edibles (“weeds”) are actually more nutritious for us than spinach or kale?
I live at the house on Springfield with the picnic table around the tree. It might not look like much, but the front garden is too shady to grow nine foot tall organic tomato plants like we do in the back so we’ve been searching out suitable plants that do well in the shade. We’ve also been building soil naturally with decomposing wood chips and leaves to mimic a forest environment as there was very little topsoil or organic matter in the infill that made up the front garden. Worms, moisture, and nutrients have finally returned to the soil, so this year we will be planting many wild ornamental edibles in the front and establishing the early stages of what permaculturists call a “food forest”. The garden will also be used as a demonstration and learning garden for working with the nature of shady, dry and nutrient deficient areas – a gardeners’ worst nightmare! We invite you to stop and take a rest with the tree at our table on your strolls up or down Springfield Road and observe how the garden is progressing. We put the table there to be used.
We have also been assisting the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health with their community garden program. We design and facilitate weekly workshops during the growing season on topics such as soil building, seed starting, companion planting, container gardening, ethical harvesting, and seed keeping. There is nothing better than seeing the pride and amazement on people’s faces when they get to taste the produce from the plants they insecurely planted for the first time in the spring. We have also begun holding ecological gardening lunch and learns through the EnviroCentre, and we co-organized Ottawa’s first Festival of Local Food where – despite the snowstorm on March 22nd - fourteen exhibitors and close to two-hundred people came out to connect around a common interest to get food on our tables in ways that are more sustainable, healthy, just and affordable for everyone.
The last two years have been an amazing journey full of learning, growing, connection and discovery, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences for the world. Looking forward, I am absolutely thrilled and bursting with pride that our very own Lindenlea Community Centre is entering its first year of developing a community garden and is joining this exciting and quickly growing movement. I simply can’t wait to be a part of the process this season and to watch both plants and curiosity bloom. Community gardens have something to offer people of every age, background and ability, and I look forward to seeing you there!