Is 2010 the summer of urban ag?

Wherever I go this summer, everyone is talking about urban agriculture. Last week, I gave a talk at the Toronto Botanical Gardens (What an evening! Cool night, nice crowd, great food, amazing gardens) and toured their container and kitchen gardens with head of horticulture, Paul Zammit. He harvested fingerling potatoes from a recycling bin, hoping to inspire all of us to grow our own spuds in plastic tubs too–and inspired I was. Earlier this week at Fort York, where I was speaking about City of Words, I learned that they too are planting food gardens. And last month, I visited Barcelona where urban agriculture is the theme at the city’s parks this season.

While I’m not an urban farmer like my neighbour Elaine, who is one of the people behind Toronto’s Young Urban Farmers CSA and who grows veggies in borrowed backyards for her members, I do grow a little bit of  food. Currently, I have peas, lettuce and chard suffering in the heat on my back deck, zucchini, beautiful basil, beans and cherry tomatoes that have yet to ripen and four fingerling eggplants dangling from one plant. I’ll seed some broccoli this weekend for a fall harvest and I hope my nasturtiums flower more so I can dress up my salads.

However, my absolutely favourite domestic food source is my front yard native black raspberry patch. Oh what a joy it is to wander outside in the early morning to pick fresh black raspberries for breakfast. I slip on my rubber boots and long sleeves (or maybe just a bathrobe) to protect against the prickles and wade into the patch. Many a morning I’ve startled some passerby as they’ve turned to see why the bush they are walking past is rustling. I just smile.

We used to have a lawn in front of the house, with a small kidney shape flower garden. The black raspberry showed up after I transplanted something from my parents’ farm. At first, I tried to move the bush to the backyard, thinking berries were better suited to the back, but it wasn’t happy there. Instead, it thrived in the front and soon took over the lawn.

Now I love my berry bush. Beside it are 15 feet high stems of native cup flowers that capture rainwater in the cups of their leaves and milkweed too. It’s an oasis for pollinators and there is a constant buzzing sound. I’ve seen a humming bird drink from the cups and very often you’ll see monarch butterflies, attracted by the milkweed. And of course there’s me and my kids. Drawn to the delicious berries we love to eat.