From farm to table—starting your food story
Two home growers share their food stories in an attempt to inspire your own.
Caylin Sun and Kayls Amaladas, Contributors | Narrative / Opinion
Food is something with which all living beings have a relationship. Plants and animals are part of the cycle of food production, consumption and decomposition. Plants transform energy by photosynthesis, the plants become food for consumers, the food turns into waste and the waste provides the nutrients to reinitiate the cycle.
Many Canadians don’t get a clear picture of this cycle. In today’s world, most people are disconnected to their food—while some may be lucky enough to have their food grown right beside their homes, or grow their own food, the grocery store is the major calorie bank for most.
Our food system relies heavily on industrial processes to feed a growing demand from a growing population. Food insecurity affects one in eight households in Canada. That amounts to four million Canadians who have a tough time putting food on the table. Food insecurity disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous and racialized Canadians as a result of enduring systemic inequalities. It isn’t because there isn’t enough food to go around—our current, worldwide food systems produce enough food to feed ten billion people. Despite the surplus, food waste is a huge problem across North America and Ontario. With the systematic marginalization of migrant workers, concerns about animal welfare and greenhouse gas emissions, there is no shortage of problems with our current food systems.
As Ontarians, can you say with confidence that you know where your vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs, milk and bread come from? For many, the answer is no.
Growing food is an entirely different process that is different from knowing how to live and eat. You transform from a detached consumer into an active producer in the food cycle. As growers, we wanted to share our journeys with you.
As I designate a little corner of Earth as my growing space for some radishes, a host of questions arise: What nutrients are in this soil? Are those the right nutrients that this radish needs to thrive? Was there anything growing here before? What nutrients did they take and leave? How much sunlight does this area get? Is there a slope that might cause water to pool? These are just a few simple questions I start with when I’m picking a space to plant in. The answer to each leads to a handful of other questions I need to ask myself in order to ensure my radishes are grown in an ideal location.
Many farmers, gardeners and lifelong plant cultivators would say that the journey of growing requires constant learning—there is always more to learn, even after decades of working with seed and soil. It was this ‘always a beginner’ mindset that gave me enough confidence to start working on a farm. When you let the fear of failure come between yourself and the opportunity to grow your own food, you’re missing out on an amazing experience. If you feel like getting your hands dirty and introducing some seeds to some soil, get up and do it!
Since social distancing began, gardening has become my favourite pastime and a life-long skill that I will continue to develop as a home gardener.
For one, plants are aesthetically pleasing to look at. For me, they add a splash of green and freshness to my life. What I find most attractive about growing my own food is that it makes me self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency is particularly appealing during such uncertain times. Having lived in cities my entire life, I never considered growing food for my own consumption until I started growing this year. It is tremendously rewarding to see living things thrive under your care and grow from a tiny seedling into a full-fledged, food-bearing plant. In an uncertain world, my little balcony garden is thriving with lettuce, pepper, tomato, cucumber, and peas and is bringing me a sense of peace and hope.
Through growing my own garden, I’ve started thinking a lot more about food. By reflecting upon our relationship to food, we invite the possibility of considering different ways in which we can improve our current food system. There’s no perfect solution, but we can start looking for the best ones by clarifying our individual and collective goals for sustainable food production. There are many ways to help transform the food system into a sustainable one. Community gardens, hydroponics, permaculture, home gardens, composting, small and large scale organic farming, co-ops, accessible, affordable (ideally free) food distribution hubs—the list goes on. Grow Food Toronto, a recently formed Facebook group with 1,900 members and counting, is one example of a local initiative doing their part. Grow Food Toronto is a community of “cultivation activists” who are growing food gardens in the midst of a pandemic. These cultivation activists are using their own resources and skills to produce food for the most vulnerable communities in Toronto through giving and donating their harvests to people in need.
Building your food story
Gardening might seem like the simplest way to improve your own, immediate food system, but there are many more ways through which we can work to restructure it. You can support food initiatives and programs by donating money to—or buying from—organizations that grow local, organic and affordable food like community gardens. You can connect with local farmers, visit Indigenous food and medicine gardens and support food banks. By sharing their programs on social media or sharing your own gardening stories online, you can make an impact. If you’d rather volunteer, you can volunteer your time to help communities struggling with food insecurity. Social media is a powerful tool—hop on TikTok and create a video to spread the message and raise awareness on the issue. With a little creativity and willpower, the possibilities for creating a better food system for all are endless. Know your food, grow your food, and take matters into your own hands. You can be a part of the movement too.