You Don’t Know ‘Till you Grow: The importance of being rooted in gardening

It is estimated that one fifth of the greenhouse gases that we’re each responsible for, come from how we consume food (1). According to New York Times writer Michael Pollan (2), growing your own food is one of the best things you can do for the environment, as it reduces a sense of dependency on the ‘cheap energy’ that composes so much of an individual’s carbon footprint. As a fourth year UBC Geography student, I am exposed to the importance of being mindful of one’s environmental impacts on an individual level. In order for big changes to happen, we must start with the little ones, and shift how we interact with the Earth on a daily basis.

Think about food production, it is no longer a big secret how much energy is required to ship food across the globe to make it accessible in grocery stores. Sustainable food is not a new concept, yet this doesn’t mean it isn’t an important one. The emergence and growth of initiatives such as Farm-to-table restaurants, community gardens, and farmers markets in urban areas all demonstrate support for the ‘back-to-the-land’ movement- the desire to grow food on a small-scale basis. If you consider yourself to be a ‘locavore’, what can be more local than growing food in your own backyard?

Alongside the direct impacts of carbon reduction, growing your own food can have indirect impacts on how one conceptualizes “waste”. Watering your plants with rainwater and fertilizing with your own compost are ways to directly repurpose what most consider to be “waste”.  As well, you are much less likely to thoughtlessly toss out food which you have dedicated time and energy to growing, reducing your individual food waste- a problem that is consuming the developed world. Taking part in gardening doesn’t require any modern technology, and gives distance from the screens that have become so entangled in our daily lives. This further helps in the separation from the ‘cheap-energy’ mindset Pollan warns us about. Additionally, Plants that you grow can become key components in the environment of native pollinators. Birds and insects can thrive off of your edible landscape, enriching, and becoming a functioning part of your local ecosystem.

I encourage you to think about the space or neighbourhood where you live. The lawns that cover many homes and park spaces are a European import. They are not designed, nor have they adapted to Canada’s harsh freezing winters, and hot, dry summers. Watering, mowing, and fertilizing are often the minimal steps needed to produce the luscious green grass that has grown (literally!) to be so widely popular for homeowners. Why not take the work and resources already put into lawn maintenance, and invest it into a space where you can be rewarded with physical ‘fruits of your labour’.

A yard space is a luxury, but not a necessity to grown food. Gardening can be as large or as small of an operation as you would like. Author and Farmer Elizabeth Millard (3) demonstrates how it is possible to turn a yard-less high-rise home into a greenhouse! Growing plants doesn’t have to be a complex process. Take Ms. Millard’s experience for example, she spilled some seeds in her car and ended up growing a crop of microgreens on the floormat of her passenger seat in her 2005 VW Beetle. Taking from this the lesson that “if the conditions are right, it will happen”. This goes to show that growing plants can be simple! As long as you have a soil space and some sunlight, you can often provide plants with the environment they need.

Gardening provides a new lens in terms of thinking about your food. In his TED talk, Roger Doiron (4) argues that gardening is a “subversive” plot, “… Food is what our body runs on, but it’s also a form of power”. When people grow their own food, they’re taking power into their own hands in terms of their diet, health, and pocketbooks. I can say from personal experience that nothing in the grocery stores, organic or not, tastes like what you can grow in your own backyard. So exert your power as a locavore and do something right now! With all the talk about sustainability, it’s time to get your hands dirty. Take responsibility over your relationship with this Earth and the responsibilities you hold in your everyday actions. Become an actor in this empowering plot and plant seeds in your own community, for you never know who you might inspire to grow!

~Claire Livingstone – guest author


  1. Food  and  Agricultural  Organization  of  the  United  Nations  “Questions  and  Answers”  FOA   website  2016,  accessed  October  27,  2016
  2. Pollan,  Michael  “Why  Bother”  The  New  York  Times  April  20,  2008 retrieved  from   http://michaelpollan.com/articles-­‐archive/why-­‐bother/ accessed  October  28,  2016
  3. Tortorello,  Michael  “A  Conservatory  in  the  Kitchen”  The  New  York  Times  November  5,  2014   retrieved  from  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/06/garden
  4. Doiron,  Roger  “My  Subversive  (Garden)  Plot”  TEDTalk.  December,  2011  retrieved  from   https://www.ted.com/speakers/roger_doiron  accessed  October  27,  2016

About The Author

Claire Livingstone is a 4th year student at the University of British Columbia, majoring in Geography and Speech Sciences. She would like to emphasize the importance of engaging in small actions to fuel big changes, which could include growing your own food to take action against the problems we face in global food production! While trying to work on her own green thumb, she encourages everyone to ‘think outside the plot’ and be conscious about the environmental responsibility they hold in their day-to-day actions.

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