Growing Food Sovereignty in Gardens

Looking out of my window on this late winter afternoon I am staring into the unblinking, unrelenting face of our prairie winter. The bright sunshine and blue sky can’t deceive me. The temperature hasn’t climbed above -15 degrees in days and still threatens to plummet to -30 or colder on some nights. My beloved garden is buried under a thick blanket of snow.

But even in the depths of winter, I feel certain that spring with its hope of resurrection, will come. And when the warm weather arrives, all this snow will melt away – first in the wide-open fields, then along the fence lines, and finally along the north side of the lilac hedge that shelters my garden. And maybe even before that last ribbon of snow has yielded, a few brave shoots of asparagus will emerge to signal that the power of new life can no longer be suppressed.

Gardening is both a humble and a humbling business. It requires literally “down and dirty” digging in the soil, planting seeds, weeding and wondering. In an age when we are increasingly reliant on technology, my garden provides a welcome alternative mode of being. It opens the way to a functional organic relationship with earth, reminding me that my life is intimately interwoven with, and ultimately reliant on, the soil and sun. Growing food not only enhances ecological knowledge, it engenders a deep respect and awe for the intricacy, diversity, and sheer power of the plant, insect, bird, and soil life surrounding us all.

Cultivating a mindful relationship with our food has never been more challenging or more important. Unlike preceding generations, the majority of us no longer live among those who grow our food. Much of the food sold in Canadian grocery stores has travelled long distances. And most eaters know remarkably little about their daily meals: Where was the food grown? By whom? Under what conditions?

The complex global food system displayed in supermarket aisles has serious ecological, economic, political, and moral consequences. Food from around the world has come millions of freight miles with the attendant greenhouse gas emissions. The uniform appearance of fresh produce can only be achieved by suppressing nature’s diversity with intensive chemical herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and fertilizers.

These obvious ecological outcomes are accompanied by economic and political dynamics. Out-of-season fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers are made possible through the conversion of local food-growing fields into export crops. Millions of peasants and small-scale farmers have been impoverished and displaced as land, here and elsewhere, is consolidated and converted. This rural displacement represents an incalculable loss of social well-being, familial and community integrity, and cultural diversity.

But like the asparagus in my garden, a movement of peasants, small-scale farmers, and indigenous peoples’ organizations from around the world, the Via Campesina, (which includes Canada’s National Farmers Union) is defying the odds. As global, corporate agribusiness and financial interests, enabled by deregulation and trade agreements, are usurping control over agricultural production and markets, the Via Campesina is engaging everywhere in political, ecological, and cultural struggles to wrest control of food back into the hands of local communities. Within the framework of food sovereignty, farmers and their allies are working to protect seeds, land, water, and cultures.

Food sovereignty brings farmers together with citizens in the shared interest of living and eating within sustainable, just, and life-giving food systems. Food sovereignty ensures greater self-reliance, diversity, and resilience in our own communities. And it changes our relationships with the earth, our lunches, and each other.

In our current food regime, a potted tomato plant, a kitchen or community garden, or a farmers’ market are all small spaces of independence from the global food system. Growing some of our own food, knowing some of those who grow it, or even something more about the places where it is grown is an antidote to indifference or arrogance. It awakens wonder.

In my own life and work, my garden not only affords me the practical benefits of delicious, nutritious, fresh food, it is a place of delight, new life, and Easter joy.

Nettie is a Saskatchewan organic farmer, ethics professor and avid gardener, cook, and eater.

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