Last night's 60 Minutes television show featured a story that has CityCaucus.com wondering, is the idea for Gregor's Garden lifted from San Francisco? There are eerie echoes of the language used to describe a community garden outside San Francisco City Hall, and the winter vegetable patch proposed by Vancouver's farmboy mayor.
I've never heard of Alice Waters before last night's broadcast, but my wife who is a foodie had. Considered arrogant and stubborn by some, a slow food maverick and a leader by others, Waters is the dogged proponent of eating local.
One thing she is most proud of is a "symbolic" garden placed outside San Francisco City Hall. Interviewer Lesley Stahl describes the garden in the story that first aired last night:
The centerpiece of the event was a sprawling, urban victory garden - a real vegetable garden in front of City Hall. Waters called it "the ultimate symbolism."
Symbolic garden? Where have we heard that lately?
Watching the show my wife looked at me and said, "sounds just like what Gregor's doing." Indeed, it does.
During the 60 Minutes piece talked about how she's lobbying the Obama administration to create another "symbolic" garden outside the White House. Some community garden that would be, with Secret Service agents weeding and tending to lettuce and beets.
The so-called "Victory Garden" in San Francisco has stirred up cynics in the Bay Area who see it as a waste of limited public resources. The garden was meant as a temporary installation to coincide with the 2008 Slow Food convention taking place in the city last summer. Gregor's Garden is meant to be a permanent fixture of Vancouver City Hall.
Is a wartime Victory Garden what Vancouver wants? A little background might be necessary...
Victory Gardens, also called "war gardens" or "food gardens for defense", were gardens planted both at private residences and on public land during World War I and World War II to reduce the pressure on the public food supply brought on by the war effort. In addition to indirectly aiding the war effort these gardens were also considered a civil "morale booster" — in that gardeners could feel empowered by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce grown. These gardens produced up to 41 percent of all the vegetable produce that was consumed in the nation. (source: City Bountiful: A Century of Community Gardening in America, Laura Lawson).
There is no doubt a keenness for local food happening in cities across the continent. Many more of us are growing their own fruits and vegetables today. But is it translating into a mass movement?
Three quarters of Vancouver's land is zoned as single family residential, with lots of room for food gardens for those who want them. It has some asking why we would direct limited city resources and tax dollars to installing them on public land, especially where there isn't the density to support it.
There is another piece of the story behind urban agriculture that is not widely understood. We could plant every square inch of our city with vegetables and it still wouldn't produce enough food to sustain Vancouver's diet. According to BC's Ministry of Agriculture and Lands 289,021 hectares is required to produce enough food for our population. The total area of Vancouver is 11,467 hectares.
A 2006 inventory indicated that the total available amount of public land that could grow food: 81 hectares.
The food movement serves an important purpose by educating us about food and how it is grown and processed. Local gardens help with that education. But we'll always need to import the bulk of our food from outside city limits.