If you've been feeling the pinch at the grocery store lately, you're not alone.
By now we've all heard the price of food in Canada is rising. Economists are predicting that Canadians will be paying between 5 and 7 per cent more for groceries on average by the end of year, due to bad crops around the world, oil prices topping $100 (U.S.) a barrel and a sluggish economic recovery. That 5-to-7 per cent rise means an extra $340 (Canadian) a year, for a family spending an average of $400 a month on groceries.
But is there a way to pay less for your family's food, without subsisting on macaroni and canned tuna fish?
I grew up on a farm in southwestern Ontario and as you might expect, everyone had a garden in their yard. Fresh vegetables were a given all summer and if you were into canning, you could enjoy the fruits of your labour all winter as well. It's something I took for granted (and I certainly wasn't much of a help with the garden), but I have wondered lately whether it's something I could do now - despite being a total urbanite.
It seems I may be on to something. Rising food prices and an interest in knowing where their food is coming from has led some urban dwellers growing vegetables in their backyard.
There are a host of online resources for anyone who wants to give it a go. Gardening Know-How gives advice on creating rooftop gardens, "vertical" gardens (for small spaces) or planting in containers (when you don't have an appropriate plot of land). Toronto Balconies Bloom is a hub for people seeking advice on how to grow food on their urban balconies. And Daniel Hoffman runs The Cutting Veg, a website dedicated to helping people grow their own food. He gave these four tips on how to create an urban garden, on behalf of Consolidated Credit Counselling Services of Canada:
- Feed your soil lots of organic matter before planting, whether it be kitchen scrap compost, animal waste or mushroom compost.
- Mulch your garden with straw or leaves. It will help retain moisture, keep weeds away, increase your soil's heat and enrich the soil.
- If this is the first time you've tried gardening in your backyard, ask neighbours with gardens what works well for them in your particular environment.
- Think you're too late in the season to plant? Never fear - you've still got time for tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, beans, eggplant, peppers, basil, carrots, beets, potatoes, onions and salad greens.
For those of us with a black thumb - I'm including myself in this category, since I once killed a snake plant, which thrives on neglect - there are ways to utilize the potential bounty in your backyard without having to do all the work yourself.
Companies have been springing up that specialize in helping city folk create edible gardens. In Toronto, Young Urban Farmers and Backyard Urban Farm Company will set up, plant and maintain your edible garden. City Farm Boy will design, build and maintain your backyard garden in Vancouver, and The Urban Farmer will help you install "edible forest gardens" in that same city. It might seem counter-intuitive to pay someone to grow cheaper food in your backyard, but presumably you could eventually learn to do it yourself.
And if you're really into farming in your backyard, you can go beyond vegetable matter and into living, breathing livestock - depending on where in Canada you live. The city of Vancouver allows homeowners to raise up to four chickens in their backyard for the purpose of egg production. (Victoria, Surrey and New Westminster, B.C. have similar laws.) While it's not legal to sell these backyard-fresh eggs, you certainly can consume them. Just don't go trying it in Toronto or Calgary or Montreal - it won't likely endear you to the neighbours and you could get yourself fined.
You might want to go with some nice beetroot instead.