HALIFAX – I’m peddling hard, snaking my way through the nonstop slew of traffic on Spryfield’s Herring Cove Rd. I gag on dust and diesel fumes as I speed past fast food outlets, boxy-beige shopping plazas and angry commuters. There’s nothing particularly special about this patch of urban sprawl; I could really be anywhere.
But l discover a lush urban farm, full of a colourful blend of sunflowers, ripe tomatoes, fragrant herbs and much more when I veer off the main road. The Urban Farm Museum of Spryfield, on the corner of Rockingstone Rd. and Ardwell Avenue, provides sanctuary to all those who need to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. City dwellers interested in learning more about Spryfield’s agricultural roots and the art of urban farming can do so if they bike out to the farm or hop on the #14 or #20 bus, both of which stop near the urban farm.
Spryfield was the city’s bread basket in the 18th and 19th century, but farms began disappearing in the ’50s to make way for urban development. The municipality appropriated most of Janet Kidston’s family’s farm in 1969, but she licenses the few acres she has left to The Urban Farm Museum Society. The Society runs programming teaching locals of all ages, abilities and walks of life how to grow food in the city. City farming is not a novel concept, but sadly much of the area’s farming knowledge has been forgotten.
“I’ve talked to a few people who just started gardening this year,” says Su Donovaro, program coordinator. These new farmers feel a sense of accomplishment, a connection to their food and are happy to be able to take care of their families through gardening, she says. “It’s exciting even for adults to plant a seed and see a plant come up.”
Initially, people can be reluctant to get their hands dirty, worrying that they’re not experts, says Donovaro. But there’s something for everyone to do in the garden. Community groups such as The Spryfield Single Parent Center and the Rockingstone Community kitchen have their own plots at the farm. Donovaro says there’s also special programming for children in long-term care at the IWK, enabling them to get fresh air and out of the hospital.
“People realize that we can’t keep buying food that comes from away,” says Donovaro. But “sometimes the local food movement can be a bit classist.” The society runs a community market at the farm on Saturday and Thursday mornings and Tuesday evenings, which they endeavor to make affordable to locals. The society doesn’t turn a profit on the market, rather the money that they earn funds programming expenses. The market is a great way “to get food into people’s bellies that’s local and healthy” and to teach people about eating seasonally. The farm also doubles as a community hub, where locals gather to tell ghost stories, act in plays or chat with their neighbors in a beautiful outdoor setting.
It’s easy to get lost in the farm’s winding mazes, smelling the flowers and admiring the vast array of ripe, seasonal produce. When I unhitch my bicycle from a tree and and thrust myself back into city traffic, I feel like I’ve been snapped awake from a pleasant dream. But luckily I can always head back.
Photos by Lizzy Hill