An allotment garden in Britain. Other countries provide citizens with much more land either free, or at nominal prices, on which to grow their own food. (submitted)

Column: Communities should look at more gardening space for public

My garden feels like paradise too: a place where I can grow delicious food fit for a king

By Mary Lowther

David spent a lot of time studying Central Asian history and can get long winded during the winter months when he is trapped indoors, whiling away the hours with endless anecdotes about Omar Khayyam, Timur the Lame and the amazing ancient Persian bureaucracy.

I find these digressions wonderfully soporific during the months other local omnivores are hibernating as well, but occasionally a useful item slips through the background noise. For example:

Evidently the ancient Persian Shahs didn’t want to share their hunting grounds with the riff raff so they had a section of land enclosed to keep the wild game for themselves. David would point out that later kings in England and France did the same thing, but he tends to get lost in detail. This particular enclosure was Persian, referred to in the native Farsi as “pairidaeza.” When the Greeks adopted the practice the word became “paradeisos” and the meaning to include any kingly or sumptuous park.

My garden feels like paradise too: a place where I can grow delicious food fit for a king or whatever he calls himself. I can grow crops that are more nutritious and tastier than almost anything I can buy and have a lot of fun doing it. Some folks think gardening costs too much money with seeds, hay, fertilizer et al, but it doesn’t have to be so.

When my dad was in the air force we lived in townhouses abutting 5,000 square foot allotment gardens and anyone who wanted could have one. They were well used and we grew up thinking it was normal to eat our own delicious fresh food, so when I flew the coop and moved away I was mightily dismayed to find this wasn’t true in Civvy Street (our term for the poor sods not in the military).

I finally discovered that Saanich offered 1,500 square foot allotment gardens on Kent Road for $50 a year and I found it quite cheap to grow good food for my kids there. We were never hungry and my children were healthy and fit. I’m convinced that eating fresh food from our own gardens keeps our immune systems resilient and helps us avoid diseases. Today those allotments have a two-year wait list.

During the Second World War, the British government dug up public lands and allotted plots to everyone, calling them “Victory Gardens”. Despite the lack of imported goods, or perhaps because of the lack, people in Britain became healthier while living off their gardens. In Vitebsk, Belarus, my son-in-law’s former home, every family has an allotment garden just outside of town on which they grow most of their food. They can build summer shelters and some have chickens, as do many allotment holders in Britain.

Remember when people in Sarajevo endured fighting in the streets back in the ’90s? One photo depicted a woman carrying two buckets of water out of her apartment building, heedless of the crossfire, heading out to water her allotment garden. Because food was scarce, citizens were encouraged to grow food on bare land and this has continued without government help. So far.

I don’t understand why our governments haven’t earmarked more plots of land for those prepared to grow their own food. Surely we have as much public land as Britain or Belarus, and certainly a fresh tomato tastes as good to a Canadian as a Serb. The Community Garden in Lake Cowichan is a terrific start, and I hope this program will expand so that people can grow more than just a few plants.

David remembers watching the Lillehammer Olympics some years ago, and particularly enjoyed the man on the street interviews on an American news network known for its political bias. His favourite had the newsman asking passing Norwegians leading questions about how they felt about the high food prices and the tax on imported produce. They asked pensioners, proletarians, teenaged goths and even a passing cab driver, and each one replied that they supported the import duties because it was vital to protect domestic agriculture.

“Someday,” an old geezer told them, “it may be all we can get.”

The sports guy was mystified. The anchorman shook his head. David claims he laughed until his coffee came out his nose. The Norwegians know that if the delivery system has even a temporary shutdown every scrap of arable land will be precious. As for the reporter, you’d think someone from Fox would understand the value of a chicken coop.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

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