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1981 Agriculture Canada: Gardens for all?

Saturday, November 19, 2016 7:09
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Replacement of $500 million of this total by homegrown produce would be equivalent in balance-of-payment terms to one fifth of our average grain exports.

By Keith Wilde
Planning Advisor, Strategic Planning and Evaluation Branch
Publication: Food Markets Commentary
Agriculture Canada
December 1981
City Farmer’s research and activities stimulated the interest of Agriculture Canada’s Keith Wilde. Excerpt of his letter dated January 12, 1982 to City Farmer, to which he attached the article from Food Markets Commentary seen in this posting.
“Enclosed with this letter is a copy of Food Markets Commentary, a departmental publication. In it, under “News and Trends” you will find a short report on gardening, which reflects information you provided. I am continuing to accumulate information about the extent of interest in urban agriculture, and we discuss it within the Planning Division. A more formal report may be more widely circulated in the Department by late winter or early spring, possibly as an idea for combatting the effects of widespread unemployment.”

Article: Gardens For All?

More and more people are growing part of their own food, with the encouragement of nutritionists, health therapists, conservationists, urban planners, and horticulturists, not to mention the garden-supply industry and publishers of gardening books.

Gardens For All, an industry association in the United States, is understandably interested in the prospects for this trend, and annually pays a substantial fee to the Gallup Organization for an exhaustive statistical survey of gardening activities and profiles of the people who garden. Consequently, reliable data on the extent and significance of home food production are becoming available for the first time.

The Gallup surveys show that householders appear to believe in gardening as a way to augment the family budget. Since 1971 (when the year surveys began), the number of home gardens goes up as food prices rise and as cash incomes fall. Almost half of U.S. families now have vegetable gardens. Of those who do not, 37% say they would if they had some land. Others are more determined; 8 million U.S. households grow vegetables in containers on patios, porches, balconies, and window boxes.

Value of a garden

Serious experimenters in several Canadian cities are working on demonstration projects with the intent of proving that an urban residence can be an almost self-sufficient homestead. While interesting as speculation on the city of the future, these efforts are not likely to be adopted by large numbers of urban Canadians right away. Livestock (rabbits and chickens) is too complex, and cereal production is not practical in small plots. Vegetables, however, and some fruits are quite amenable to home production and actually grow better in small gardens than in fields. They are labor-intensive, but the returns on direct dollar investment are about 2000%.

A volunteer group in Vancouver (City Farmer) has calculated, with the aid of two local horticulturists that even in the city proper, the densest part of Greater Vancouver, there is enough land to grow all the vegetables consumed annually by the residents. The available land is not distributed equally among back yards of course, but unused land in boulevards, industrial areas, and front yards adds up to a sufficient total without including parks, golf courses/and cemeteries.

The important point is that if there is this much land in the city of Vancouver, then every metropolitan region in Canada certainly has enough within and immediately surrounding it to grow vegetables for the area. Probably not every household would want to garden, but for many commercial gardening is feasible on land that is currently used for little except grass. City food production could conceivably make a substantial contribution to the national economy. Canada currently imports about $400 million worth of vegetables each year and another $800 million worth of fruits and nuts. Replacement of $500 million of this total by homegrown produce would be equivalent in balance-of-payment terms to one fifth of our average grain exports.

Our taste for fresh produce in the off-season accounts for part of this volume of imports. Energy-conscious architects and engineers support the replacement possibility. They point out that with modifications in housing design and retrofitting of older buildings to admit more sunlight, the controlled climate (heat. water, and light) of urban residents can provide a year-round supplement to canned and frozen vegetables, in a very small space.

Judging from observations at nurseries, garden centres, allotment gardens, and in horticulturist’s columns, books, and magazines, gardening is a hobby for middle-to-upper income families and a pastime for retired executives. This impression notwithstanding, vegetable gardening is embraced seriously and enthusiastically by residents of low-income neighborhoods in major U.S. cities. Reports from San Francisco and Los Angeles point out that one of the incentives is the closing down of supermarkets in urban core regions, leaving only small stores which stock little produce. Frequently, these neighborhoods have significant areas of urban wasteland. Once the rubble is cleared, gardens can be grown.

The USDA recognized the need and the opportunity, and began a pilot horticulture program in 1977, in six eastern cities. The program provides information only, and started with a moderate budget of $1.5 million. By 1980, the value of produce from gardens in blighted urban areas had reached $5.6 million. There are now 16 cities in the program, and the extension service budget has been expanded to $3 million. Cities are selected by size and the extent and intensity of urban blight and poverty. In 1980, there were 181 000 participants, one fourth of them under the age of 18.

The professional and paraprofessional staff of this USDA program of 235 (1980) is supplemented by 2900 experienced and enthusiastic gardeners and home-food preservers who live in or near the projects. They teach gardening principles, proper nutrition, food preservation, and related techniques. Local groups and businesses have made contributions in kind such as canning centres, stoves, fuel, and pressure cookers, to a value of half a million dollars
(K. Wilde. Strategic Planning Division, Agriculture Canada).
Food Market Commentary Vol 3 No 4

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