Sunday, 8 July 2012

My Three Favorite Tips for Staying Connected to your Food While Living in the City

Farmers Market in Montenegro

As a University student, I often find myself sitting indoors and in front of my computer. While studying, the closest I get to a farm is the Saturday market. Because it is important for me to remain connected to my food, I’ve reflected on how to do so when stuck in the city; here are three ways to do so. If you have any of your own tips, please post them here.

1. Be creative with space.

Plants can grow almost anywhere; many will grow just fine in your house or apartment. Garlic is the perfect example. If left in storage, even in your cupboard, garlic cloves begin to sprout on their own. Although this isn’t the recommended method of growing them! All you have to do is bury the clove in soil in a small container and a few months later you will start to see your garlic plant sprout. Many people are extremely creative with space in the city. One example is the art of window gardening. Window gardens are a great place to grow herbs and spices for cooking. Another example of a creative use of space is the rooftop garden. Rooftop gardens are the answer to finding space for gardening even in the most confined living arrangements, such as high-rise apartment complexes; because these spaces are often communal, they also become a great way to share gardening tips with your neighbour! You may not be able to grow your entire meal on the roof, but many plants are content with such a space. Some examples include: garlic, chives, basil, arugula, swiss chard, tomatoes, small pepper varieties, or radishes.
Chicago Rooftop Garden (photo from

2. Read food labels.

We don’t always have the luxury or the time to graze solely at farmers markets. But, if eating local and in season is important to you, read your food labels to see where your food was produced. I’ve often made the mistake of assuming that if a plant can grow in Canada, that finding it in the market means it must be locally grown. But, that is not always the case. Take garlic for example. Garlic is a crop that grows well in Canada, but most garlic I find in the store is shipped in from China! Because some stores and markets have yet to reveal product origin information, it is often necessary to shop around for stores that do.
Estonian Wild Mushrooms
3. In one word: seasonality

Living in Canada, it is hard for me to ignore seasons! In other parts of the world, seasons are not so clear-cut. No matter where you are, plants, believe it or not, are very in-tuned to seasonality (when I talk about seasonality I’m referring to the natural growth cycles of plants). So, knowing what time of year to start planting a food will make a difference in what grows well in your home garden. Being attentive to seasons, will also allow you to organize your garden so you can enjoy your own food year-round. If you buy seeds, the package will often display the best time of year to plant local varieties. If you go to farmers markets, ask your farmer. My best advice on when to plant seeds has come directly from farmers who are highly in tune with plants' seasonal needs.

If you know what foods grow in what season you can also begin to enjoy wild edibles. Mushrooms are a great example. Many mushrooms grow wild and their harvest is often regulated and seasonally in nature areas. Some city-dwellers have taken to the art of foraging in the heart of urban areas. You’d be surprised how many edible greens are growing under the guise of weeds! Some examples include, dandelion leaves, sorrel, and mustard greens. Remember to check whether or not urban foraging areas are chemical-free. Also, wild foods should not be consumed without consulting with an expert
Wild Young Morel Mushrooms (photo from

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