Let's start with a quiz. Look at the two photos below, and tell me which one feels "right" to you.
If you guessed that the moonscape is legal, and the gorgeous garden is illegal, you're right. (And that's how insane my little corner of the world is.)
Here's the story...
A friend of ours bought a 2.5 acre property in a sort of no man's land, not quite rural, not quite urban, sort of suburban (though we don't often equate 2.5 acres with suburban). Before our friend purchased it, the seller had used an excavator and dump truck to mine and scrape the land bare of top soil, sand and gravel. When our friend moved in, he told us, "There were no worms, no grasshoppers, no birds, no butterflies; essentially — no living creatures!"
Here's our friend's tale of what he and his partner have done since:
Since 1999, we have made a tremendous effort to heal the land, beginning slowly, one wheelbarrow at a time. It has been a gradual, organic process, from planting a few fruit trees and having a small growing area, to expanding with more hand-made soil using wood chips from local tree companies and a small amount of horse manure from local stables. Now we have 4 kinds of bees, several types of dragonflies, numerous types of butterflies, frogs, toads, snakes, and hundreds of birds and much more! We have dedicated our time to supporting hundreds of community members who have sought guidance on how to become more sustainable in their own lives; from educating people on how to support sustainable local initiatives, to teaching families how to grow their own food. Three years ago, we also started a successful farmers' market.
Now, here's the scary part of the story. This couple has been advised by their local level of government that they must "cease all agricultural activity" on their property. Because one neighbour complained about some piles of soil/manure. Then the bylaw officer found out that they sell some of their produce at a farmers market. Sheesh.
This neighbour obviously does not understand where food comes from. Our society is 99% ecologically illiterate. How else can we explain neighbours turning in neighbours for growing food — instead of suggesting over the fence that it's time to turn in the piles of manure?
Our friends were heaped (pardon the pun) in with people who have "filth, discarded materials [let us not forget that poo has, for thousands of years, been recycled, not discarded] or rubbish, unused or stripped automobiles, trucks, trailers, boats, vessels, machinery, mechanical or metal parts" on their properties!
Given that agriculture and food growing in the northern hemisphere depend on a stable climate, which relies on the cooling effect of the Arctic summer sea ice — which is disappearing! — it behooves each of us to start becoming our own food suppliers. Our food crops will not be able to withstand the heat waves of an ice-free Arctic summer (witness Russia in the summer of 2010 and their loss of crops). We must start learning to grow food closer to home, and at home — to hell with neighbourhood appearances! Beauty is a wondrous thing, but we can't eat it. With local food, we can at least try to adapt it to local growing conditions.
So, the caution here? Find out ahead of time what your local bylaws say about food growing, and make sure you will be supported. Be proactive. Explain the climate change emergency to your municipality. If necessary, get the bylaws changed before they get in your way.
And start growing!