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UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 9 | July 4, 2002

Guilt, Gardening and Locally Grown Food

Go green, grow your own.

By Derek Masselink

From Salzburg to Saltspring Island more and more people are seeking out locally grown food for their tables. Derek Masselink, UBC Farm's program coordinator, looks at what is driving the boom in community-based food systems.

It used to be that when I went shopping I could do it with a clear conscience. As long as I was buying whole wheat bread and brown rice and packing my groceries away in cloth bags, I was happy and carefree, safe in the knowledge that I was doing my part for my health and the environment.

My bliss was short-lived, succumbing to the seemingly endless onslaught of facts and figures documenting the damaging effects of meat on health and the environment followed by umpteen warnings about climate change, effects of pesticide residues and, more recently, genetically modified organisms. These warnings were the kiss of death to my clear shopping conscience, replacing it instead with stomach-gnawing, shoulder-checking, grocery-shopping guilt. I was becoming aware that my shopping decisions apparently were not only killing me but they were killing communities and even more worrisome, they were killing the planet.

Guilt is not a feeling that I like to cultivate so I needed to find something effective to do about it. The challenge was to find an activity that could alleviate environmental guilt, was good for my health and the environment, and most importantly was enjoyable to do. My wife and I eventually decided to take up food gardening, a pastime that promised reduced guilt, good feelings, full stomachs and a reduced impact on the environment.

This decision changed our lives. What started as a tiny balcony garden 10 years ago has blossomed into a personal and now professional passion for growing food close to home.

Growing even a small amount of your own food can be extremely liberating and educational. The idea that you can produce some of what you eat is immensely empowering. When you have a garden, you no longer have to drive to the grocery store to buy carrots and beans because they grow just outside your back door. The simple act of gardening introduces you to what good, fresh food tastes and looks likes. You come to know what can be grown and when it can be eaten. You may be surprised by the joy the harvest brings when it is shared with family and friends. Over time you may even begin to learn the skills of food storage and preservation or the art of "putting food by".

These are important "moments" because unwittingly you have created the beginnings of a small ecological food system, one that is localized, doesn't depend on large inputs of energy or nutrients, and supports and responds to the needs of your family and friends. Your garden has become what we in the food system business would call a personal food system, a good first step in the development of a larger community-based food system.

Today the average food item travels 2,000 km to reach your kitchen. This has tremendous consequences, such as reduced freshness, taste and nutrition, high-energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions, and reduced local economic health. Community-based food systems reduce the distance food travels from field to plate to greatly reduce these negative effects.

Those of us behind the UBC Farm initiative believe there is an opportunity to develop a more localized food system here at UBC. To this end, we have established a community-based food systems program, which includes our Farm Market and Market Garden. We have also begun working with the various on-campus food services encouraging them to support the use and delivery of local, safe, nutritious food grown in a manner that is sustainable, good for the environment, economical and creates more on-campus learning opportunities. Two years ago we began by providing locally grown, organic veggies to Green College. This summer we will be hosting a weekly market at the Farm and plan to supply a number of on-campus food service outlets with fresh veggies.

So if the state of the environment has got you down, and a trip to the green grocer fills you with guilt, don't just sit and sulk, get up, and do something about it! Go and buy some local food. Visit a farmer's market. Better yet visit ours or, best of all, start growing your own. Chances are, like me, you'll be surprised how it will change your life!

more infomation

UBC Farm is a student-driven initiative to retain and re-create existing farm and forest lands at the University of British Columbia into an internationally significant centre for sustainable agriculture, forestry and food systems. For more information on the UBC Farm and the UBC Farm Market please contact 604.822.5092 or visit www.agsci.ubc.ca/ubcfarm.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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