I first discovered stinging nettle one day while book shopping on Harbord Street, a popular used book area of Toronto. One of the stores had a selection of herbs sitting out front. Anyone who knows me knows I am a sucker for herbs and am impulsive about touching them. You should see me at the end of our yearly Herb Fair meet-ups. All of those smells in one place! I am a maniac!
So there I am happily rubbing each plant and lifting my fingers to my face repeatedly soaking in a variety of delicious herbal scents. And then I rub the stinging nettle. Let’s just say the experience has taught me to be patient and observe with my eyes BEFORE making contact with my fingers or god forbid my nose! It has also taught me a new level of respect for plants. That initial shock prompted me to look into this unassuming yet powerful plant, and I have since come to appreciate it as a very valuable and fantastic herb.
May 16-27 is “Be Nice to Nettles Week.” The site has a lot of interesting facts and tid bits from a recipe for nettle soup to information about the wildlife the plant sustains. Learning about stinging nettle might not win you over completely but perhaps warm you up just a little to this painful herb.
I’ve been receiving requests for information on starting a community garden since posting about my experience working with the H.O.P.E Community Garden Group here in Toronto. Starting a community garden is an awesome experience but it is also quite an undertaking. Starting a garden is as much about the physical labor involved in building the garden space as it is about building community and working co-operatively with a sense of commitment and purpose. My experiences with The H.O.P.E Garden have been so positive because of the efforts of project organizer Shannon Thompson of Greenest City, a Toronto based non-profit that has gone above and beyond in organizing one of the most well-functioning teams I have ever had the pleasure to work alongside.
Of course most of us don’t have the benefit of a team experienced in community building and the practical ins-and-outs of community garden organizating. In that case I would recommend that anyone looking to start a community garden in their area pick up a copy of “How Does Our Garden Grow?: A Guide to Community Garden Success” published by FoodShare and written by Laura Berman. This is an excellent and comprehensive resource that outlines many of the issues that you will face when starting a garden from leadership, site design and selection, to raising money and establishing gardener expectations. There is even a practical gardening section for beginners covering topics such as companion planting and composting.
TerraCycle Inc — a company started by a college student that sells liquid worm poo fertilizer in recycled pop bottles — is being sued by Scotts makers of Miracle-Gro claiming that the product package designs are too similar and confuse customers “…because some TerraCycle plant foods have a green and yellow label with a circle and a picture of flowers and vegetables on it.” Cause you know how novel and original these style choices are in the garden industry. They have started a blog called “Sued By Scotts” chronicling the lawsuit.
Scotts is also taking issue with the TerraCycle claim that their product is better than “a leading synthetic plant food” while refusing to hand over their test results to Scotts.
I love me some worm poo but have never tried the TerraCycle product since I can get liquid vermicompost produced locally or make it myself. I don’t think I need to tell you that I think Miracle-Gro is a terrible, environmentally unsound product but I gotta say that while I didn’t think it was possible this kind of bullying tactic only further places Scotts front and centre on my shitlist.
Terracycle’s answer to Scotts claim is due today.
Parkdale, the neighborhood where I have made my home for most of my adult life houses approximately 75% of its residents in apartments with 38% residing in high-rise towers without access to outdoor space. This neighbourhood is incredibly diverse with people hailing from literally all over the world. It’s an excellent example why Toronto is lauded as the most multicultural city in the world and why I love it here so much. But with so many people living on low incomes and without outdoor space, we desperately need food-growing gardens that serve the needs of this community.
Over the last month or so I’ve been involved with an exciting innitiative in my neighborhood to build a community garden in an underused park next to the local community centre. It’s not a huge garden and demand for space is high, but the hope is that the success of one such garden will open up the possibility for many more in this area.
This past weekend marked the official groundbreaking of the garden. The City gave us two options to get the garden started: they would remove the sod with a cutting machine or rototill the entire area. From the start the group has established a mandate to be as ecologically sound as possible, our goal being to create an environment that cultivates the health of the neighborhood. As a result we opted for the less invasive sod removal method. We would have loved to have simply composted the grass in place (sometimes called sod conversion) however time is not on our side this time around. Rolling up the sod means we can control how much the soil is cultivated, preserving the health of the soil and keeping as much nutritional matter intact as possible. We were also concerned that rototilling would result in grass popping up in plots within a few weeks.
We saved some of the sod to form rows between plots and gave the rest away to locals who needed it.
I am really excited to be a part of such a great project and can’t wait to see how it evolves and grows in the coming weeks and most especially once the gardens are planted and on their way to making food and building relationships within the community.
A friend of mine recommended this New York Times piece about Prince Charles and his involvement in the Slow Food Movement. Be sure to listen to his speech on small-scale and sustainable agriculture given at the Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy (2004).
“The one resource the developing world has in abundance is people so why are we promoting systems of agriculture that negate this advantage and contriubte directly to further human misery and indignity.”
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I can only say that for some reason I felt in my bones that if you abuse nature unnecessarily and fail to maintain a balance, then she will probably abuse you in return,Ã¢â‚¬Â he wrote in his new book, Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Elements of Organic Gardening,Ã¢â‚¬Â written with Stephanie Donaldson (Weidenfeld & Nicolson).
What surprised my friend and myself as well is how clear and honestly he speaks about poverty and it’s attachment to food and agriculture. Who knew the Prince of Wales was such a progressive chap?