Edible Garden Tour 2010

Ron Berezan Talks to the Tour Participants

This year’s Edible Garden Tour, hosted by Ron Berezan AKA The Urban Farmer, was held on August 14th. Meeting at Giovanni Caboto Park on a cloudy Saturday morning, fifty enthusiastic gardeners split into two groups and proceeded to visit ten amazing gardens distributed about the Edmonton area. Some of those taking part in the tour already had enviable gardens of their own, while others were planning for the day when they might.

The tour featured everything from backyard orchards to front yard vegetable gardens, and was brimming with inspiring ideas for both experienced and novice gardeners.

Each home on the circuit incorporated aspects of permaculture gardening; landscapes that work with nature to provide food, medicinal plants, and animal products and in a sustainable way. Permaculturists create a sustainable, productive environment through recycling, composting, reducing water needs and using microclimates to their advantage.

The forest garden is one example permaculture in action. Berezan’s own backyard is a testament to multi-layer design with stacking of canopy trees over shrubs and herbaceous plants followed by root and cover crops. Each layer in this polyculture interacts, creating a complex yet fundamental ecosystem.

A visit to the Mustard Seed Community Garden, aptly named “Peas Be With You”, demonstrated what can be done when a small plot of land is transformed into a neighbourhood garden space. Shared by both local residents and the homeless, the Mustard Seed garden produces food that is prepared and eaten by the green thumbs that participate.

We saw some amazing private gardens throughout the city as well. The fruit of years of grafting and nurturing were apparent in one homeowner’s apple orchard which featured trees drooping under the weight of as many as four different species of apple.

A Glenora area homeowner encourages people to slow down and smell the roses – literally. She has incorporated rest stops in her front garden and a nearby public access area with signs which invite people to stop and explore.

We met Roy Berkenbosch, winner of this year’s Front Gardens in Bloom (Edible Garden Category). Roy and his wife have transformed their front yard into an edible landscape full of beans, beets, and other culinary treats, while maintaining an attractive aesthetic.

I personally enjoyed our visit to a backyard apiary, although I have to admit I was worried that the bees might be able to smell my discomfort. As many as 50,000 bees inhabit this backyard beehive and it has already produced over 40 lbs of honey for the amateur beekeepers.

The 2010 Edible Garden Tour was an amazing private view into the yards of ordinary Edmontonians with extraordinary vision. I’m always inspired by touring other gardens, and this year was no exception.

I’m already working on plans to build a solar food dryer, rebuild my square foot raised beds to be more efficient, and I’ve dug my mom’s old canner out of storage so that I can experiment with canning more varieties of vegetables this fall.

Thanks to the Urban Farmer for hosting the tour. Here’s hoping that after Ron departs for warmer B.C. climes the tours continue. Permaculture is increasingly popular among those of us who enjoy the feel of dirt under our nails, and we can all use a little inspiration now and again.

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No Need to be Chicken About Poultry

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The River City Chicken Collective (RCCC) is a group of Edmonton permaculturists and locavores who are keen to have the City Planning Department re-evaluate those bylaws which prevent the keeping of hens within city limits.

Known locally as the Urban Farmer, Ron Berezan is a strong proponent of the group’s RCCC’s pilot project to study as many as ten backyard sites in different neighbourhoods around the city. The goal of the study is to develop regulations with respect to husbandry, cleanliness and overall poultry-keeping practices within the city.

Numerous North American jurisdictions already allow chickens in limited numbers within urban communities, including Victoria, Seattle, New York, and Chicago. Both Calgary and Vancouver are considering amendments their current bylaws in order to allow limited chicken rearing.

The primary advantage for the backyard chicken enthusiast is the production of fresh eggs. On average three chickens can produce two eggs per day. Secondary advantages come in the form of insect, weed and slug control as well and the production of ample high nitrogen fertilizer for the composter.

The local food movement is gaining strength in Canada, in part due to our increasingly distant relationship between consumer and farmer. As our groceries come from progressively further away, our need to counter this trend grows. More Edmontonians are growing their food in their own backyards, front yards and in some cases wherever they can find.

This trend towards improved sustainability is not a nod to the latest fashion. It is, in fact, an indication that consumers take their food supply seriously. Recent occurrences of contamination of the food supply (think spinach 2006 and 2008) have people thinking more about what they eat and how it is produced.

Movies like Food, Inc. ask the public if they are hungry for change, and resoundingly the answer is yes.

Personally, I don`t want to raise chickens. It seems like it would be a lot of responsibility, and I’m pretty sure my dog would have objections to sharing her domain with fowl. I do, however, support the right of others to raise chickens if their heart is in it. I think it’s a great learning experience for children and a good source of locally raised eggs. All the more power to the River City Chicken Collective – you have my support.

I have every reason to believe that the city will enforce regulations that will keep the numbers reasonable and the conditions clean and sanitary. I’d much rather have a neighbour with a few contained hens than a single free-roaming cat that finds my garden the most attractive place in the neighbourhood to do its business.

Urbanchickens.org is a great resource for more information about raising poultry in the city. If you want to join Edmonton’s bid to host chickens in our backyards, go to http://ca.groups.yahoo.com/ and search for River City Chicken Collective.