Special Report: Peak Oil

Urban Bounty

Hamilton is almost uniquely suited in terms of geography, climate, and natural soil quality to provide much of its own food within its own borders.

By Jason Allen
Published August 25, 2010

There has been a lot of conversation in our house recently as to whether or not Hamilton could ever feed itself - not the exurbs, or rural part of Hamilton, but if worse came to worst, could the downtown produce enough of its own produce to stave off any kind of food security crisis.

Lord Cameron, the head of an agency set up to study the British countryside, famously said that society is "nine meals from anarchy". The first day of not knowing where your next meal will come from is tolerable, the next one worrying, and the third panic-inducing.

Now keep in mind that with the just-in-time mantra and tiny stockrooms of most grocery outlets, there are usually no more than three days of food on any given supermarket's shelves. This is true not only for supermarkets, but for the cities they are in as well.

So I have harped on this topic before, and will do so again - between Hamilton's very active Eat Local community and the farmers right in our midst, we are starting to take some shaky steps on the road to food security.

I do want to borrow a page from a blog I am fond of, though, and take a little walk around my neighborhood.

In Strathcona, there is a park about 30 yards from my house with a big community garden. That's a great start. I also have Russ and Backyard Harvest at the end of the street, and around the corner at the local poet's house on Locke.

Those are the obvious ones, but What about the not-so-obvious? What about the guy across the street from Russ who has what seems to be a massive tomato patch in his back yard? I also happen to know of another neighbor in Strathcona who is heavily in to intensive, high-yield backyard gardening.

All great steps, but sometimes the steps are even more subtle.

One of the most important features of permaculture is the interplanting of fruit and nut trees with your low-rise vegetables. It was about a week ago (while doing my surveys for Hamilton Civic League) that I finally introduced myself to my neighbor with the apple tree in her backyard - apples she considers a nuisance, but that I consider a great source of homebrewed cider. A deal was quickly struck.

One block further than Russ down Peter Street are two big serviceberry trees. Out west, we call them Saskatoon berries, and they make amazing jam. Every year since we've been here, they have been eaten by the birds in a neighborhood where nobody a) knew what to do with them, or b) had the guts to ask the homeowners for permission to harvest them.

Finally, right across York over on the Dundurn castle grounds are the original apple orchards, harvested from time to time by the good folks at Hamilton Fruit Tree.

All of this is to say that predictions of doom and gloom aside, Hamilton is almost uniquely suited in terms of geography, climate, and natural soil quality to provide much of its own food within its own borders. Now we just have to take one more teensy weensy little step and we will be well on our way.

This article was originally published on Jason's blog.

Jason Allen is a chronic hive whacker in the Kirkendall Neighbourhood.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted August 25, 2010 at 09:30:47

There are folks in my neighbourhood who grow more food per square inch than I can believe. I often just stop in awe when I walk by their gardens.

It's simple, but it isn't easy. It takes years of planning and practice. Might as well get that in now when pepper plants and corn stalks are just as much ornamental as they are part of our subsistence.

One fruit tree can put out hundreds of pounds of food in a year. That means that 5000 or so new trees could translate into a million or so pounds of apples, cherries and pears down the line. And then there's nuts, wood, and fertilizer-bearing trees. And that's really not a lot of trees, considering what we regularly clearcut for highways and the like.

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By loveforever (registered) | Posted August 25, 2010 at 10:36:52

Hello Jason,

I totally agree with you!

I think our Hamiltonians and other communities in our region should grow more fruit trees, vegetables and even wheat, rice,...fields, grow more farm animals ...to bring back the local agriculture, support our farmers to produce food for ourselves as you had stated: "we are starting to take some shaky steps on the road to food security."

Who know with a lot changing in the weather lately, food will become very unstable commodity in the future?. Look at the Pakistan's massive floods, China's landslides, Rusia's forest fires ....

Comment edited by loveforever on 2010-08-25 09:38:26

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By Andrea (registered) | Posted August 25, 2010 at 23:06:34

I feel pretty inadequate as the only food in my yard is fresh herbs! :-)

My Great Grandmother had a huge garden; with six kids to feed it was a necessity. She grew everything and canned it all. She owned a ton of property in the North end from the 1920's to the 1960's, most of it was used for growing vegetables. By today's standards she would have been considered an Urban Farmer. She also kept a large garden when she moved to the mountain in the late 60's. By then all her grown children were also huge vegetable gardeners, providing for their families. As a child I remember helping my Grandparents with their vast garden. It was big enough that we didn't have to have one, we just went to their house on weekends to pick up green beans, peppers, tomatoes, zuchini and lettuce.

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By NortheastWind (registered) | Posted August 25, 2010 at 23:24:44

I only have two words: SEED BANK

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted August 26, 2010 at 08:51:14

When I lived downtown I was under the shadow of Slater Steel and US Steel (Stelco) along with all of the other heavy industry. My house inside and out and car are constantly filthy with soot no matter how much I cleaned them. I cannot honestly say I would eat anything grown in that backyard due to the contamination I saw everywhere.

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By ddaearegydd (anonymous) | Posted August 25, 2012 at 23:14:01

Grow stuff on flat rooves! Ever flown over an urban area? The amount of unused space on the top of apartment blocks and groundscrapers is almost criminal. They should at least have some greenery on their rooves. It would not take much effort at all to adapt these buildings for growing veg!

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