After the thaw: could this be a farm by next spring?


As an apartment dweller living in close quarters, sometimes I appreciate open or unused spaces simply for the fact that they are not built upon. But in other cases, I lament upon what seems like wasted space around an office or apartment building, or even an extra-deep front yard. Perhaps it is the fact that I have no yard of my own that makes me yearn to make use of some underused land for my own personal garden.

At least one other Ottawan feels similarly. Urban farmer Jesse Boynton Payne has started a new type of Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) initiative that partners with homeowners to use their yards to grow organic vegetables and fruit. Instead of looking out at a yard that you have to mow, or planting a garden that you really don’t have time to weed, you can partner with Jesse’s service —The Vegetable Patch — and he will cultivate your yard for you. Similar services exist in many U.S cities; closer to home another variation is Toronto’s Young Urban Farmers.

In payment for use of your land, you get periodic vegetable baskets throughout the growing season, from both your own and other gardens around the city. It’s this “in-kind” payment of free produce that makes Jesse’s service different from traditional CSA models, where the customer buys a share in the harvest before the season starts. But like a traditional CSA,  Jesse’s customers are aware of what he intends to plant early in the year, and the actual produce that is delivered depends on the season and the success of the crop. The users of the service are participating in the risk of agriculture; if there is a bad weather season, or a pest infestation of a certain crop, the harvest – and the food box – suffer. Equally, in a good year, there is extra for all.

Most of  Jesse’s yards are in older areas of the city where larger lot sizes are common; “Vegetable Patch” needs about 1000 square feet of any given backyard to make cultivation worthwhile. The yard owner commits to refraining from any use of herbicides, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers on their property. The season begins with tillage and planting of peas and beans in early May and continues with further planting through late May and early June as the ground warms up; it finishes with garden clean-up in early November. Jesse assures that no labour from the yard owner is required.

-photo by Relentlessly