This week we had our annual farm tour with our community partners from Bayers Westwood Family Resource Centre and ISANS. Every year we bring together about 50 gardeners from across the city, load them onto a bus, and head off to explore some of the beautiful organic farms we have here in Nova Scotia. Most of our participants on these tours are seniors, many new to Canada, all who face barriers such as social isolation, mobility, income and language. For us it’s an opportunity to expose participants to new ideas, to meet fellow gardeners from across Halifax, and to escape the city and enjoy what nature has to offer.
This year we visited Abundant Acres in Centre Burlington and the Centre for Small Farmers in Grand Pre. Having prayed for no rain, we of course got record heat for our tour to the valley. Regardless, 48 of our gardeners clambered onto the bus first thing in the morning and embarked on a full day fun. We first visited Abundant Acres, where David and Jen Greenberg greeted us with open arms. Their small mixed vegetable farm was in full bloom, and offered a great example of the potential of organic agriculture in this fair province.
We started with Jen and David explaining the important work they do, and the principles that guide their decision making. We walked the grounds, exploring a great diversity of crops, eventually ending up at back of the property. After trudging along, we found ourselves immersed in picturesque field of leeks and beans. Despite the rough road to get there, our participants powered through without complaint, some pushing walkers or using canes to stomp through the muddy path. The farmers generously let us pick through their rows of green and yellow beans. In the sweltering heat, our participants harvested with abandon until lunch.
Lunch was a real treat this year. With the generosity of our participants and our hosts, it turned into a 50 person potluck, featuring dishes from around the world. We were scattered across the lawn on picnic blankets underneath the shade of a big oak tree. Gardeners made their rounds from picnic group to picnic group, sharing dishes of curry, rice, sauteed mustard greens, homemade chapatti, and much more. For my part I brought a massive bean salad, with beans from Common Roots Urban Farm.
Many of the participants were interested in buying some vegetables from the farm. David had some surplus vegetables in his walk-in that he was willing to sell at a discount. So after lunch we set up an impromptu market stand filled with eggplant, kale, jalapenos, spinach, celery and many other delicious veggies. The gardeners were very excited to see some of their favorite vegetables on offer, and the whole event took on the energy of a bustling open air market, likely reminiscent of markets back home. By the end of it all, David sold all the vegetables from his walk-in, and our participants lumbered towards the bus hoisting big bags vegetables in each hand. David and Jen saw us off at the end of the driveway and we drove off towards the Centre for Small Farms.
At the Centre for Small Farms, our friend Av Singh met us with ice-cold cucumber water and trays of chocolate from Just Us. Under the shade of market tents, we listened attentively while Av described to us the work the Centre does to support farmers both in the global South and here in Canada as well. Given that many of our participants were farmers in their home countries before they made their journey here, the global scope of food and agriculture issues was a particularly salient topic.
After getting an overview of the philosophies that drive their work, Av took us for a tour of their demonstration garden. The beautiful garden not only demonstrates effective organic growing techniques, it also tells a story about agriculture, farmers and the environment through their carefully messaged and skillfully placed signage. The demo garden is place where passer-byes who may have stopped for a coffee, can come and learn about growing organic and the challenges we must overcome to have a truly just and sustainable food system. As always, Av was a gracious and informative host.
Overall, our farm tour day couldn’t have been better. Despite being the hottest day of the year so far, our seniors powered through, as did our farmers who took time from their busy schedules to share with us their valuable contribution to our food system. As always the tours teach us that we are all part of this food system, and we all play a role in its future, whether we are seniors from Bhutan, gardeners from Bayers Westwood, or farmers from the valley – we all eat. The Our Food Project is all about connecting food and community – and that’s just what we did that day.
Author: Will Hill, Community Food Programmer at the Ecology Action Centre