Creating Community

Last year, more food than I would like to admit went to waste in my yard. If you haven’t seen my 2020 garden recap yet, check it out! My garden produced more food than Jim (husband man), Cecilia (daughter person), and I could eat, even when sharing the bounty with the friends and family we were socializing with. I took care to harvest some food specifically for the freezer, I preserved food by pickling, canning, and dehydrating, and yet, I still had a lot of food just be tossed into the compost.

So why did I made my garden even larger this year? Well, it’s pretty simple; so that I could create a community among my neighbors.

Community

A group of people who live in the same area or who share a common characteristic, like gardening, or eating. Eating is my favourite kind of community assembly

Now, you could argue that my neighbors and I already belong to a community, as we literally all live in each other’s vicinity, but aside from the casual conversations I have with my next door neighbors, D&W, watching my kid play with other kids while I stand there with the other parents, and the constant walks Cecilia and I take, we don’t really interact with our neighbors which is a shame. So I decided that this year, instead of letting food go to waste, I would create a place where I could share garden fresh produce.

My ultimate goal here is to share my excess and have neighbors share theirs. To start a conversation around growing our own food, and living a more sustainable life. And to get to know my neighbors a bit more intimately. I hope that by offering a community space to share, we become more interconnected and learn from one another.

I brought up this project with a small group of people in a discussion around food security and I had two individuals reach out to me, asking about my grassroots project. Until this point, I didn’t think about it as a grassroots project, and just something I was doing for my family and for my desire for community, but the more I considered it, the more it became evident that this term “grassroots project” was so accurate, except there would be no grass, because I’m ripping my lawn out!

This project of mine has a budget of $0 so I turned to my local Buy Nothing group (you know how I love my BN group) and Facebook Marketplace for free listings of the things I would need to make this project a little more “real”. I wanted a table (to place my gifts) and baskets and bowls (to put the food into, on the table).

Fortunately, I was able to find a table pretty quickly (sooner than I was ready to put it out!), and I’ve now started collecting baskets and bowls to share the wealth.

My next step was telling my neighbours about this. Because of COVID I couldn’t exactly go door knocking, so I worked on a letter which I then printed (I decided that using materials I already had, like paper, ink, and seeds did not count against my budget) 60 copies of. This was a big undertaking for me because I also decided that I wanted to make sure that my neighbours wouldn’t just think this all was spam or someone trying to convert them to another religion before they even opened the letter, so I coloured a different fruit/veg/plant drawing on every.single.letter and wrote out one of two things “It’s like a farmer’s market, but no farmer and free” or for the ones which my drawing suffered “I grow food better than I draw it!”

The letter!

Hello Neighbour,

I want to share free produce with you and your family! I am not selling anything or preaching religion or anything like that; this really is just about free food.

My name is Breanne, I live at redacted with my husband, Jim, and daughter, Cecilia. You may have noticed a lot of gardening happening in our yard this year and last. I am a landscape student with an interest in edible landscaping and in creating productive spaces.

After last year’s bounty, I noticed our gardens produced more food than my family and I could possibly eat, yet I made my gardens larger this year with the goal of producing even more! My hope is to share the food I produce with you, my neighbours, and create a community around growing food.

You will notice in the next few weeks a table set up under the magnolia tree which is where I will be putting our excess produce, occasionally small plants, and sometimes seeds from my seeding fruit. Please feel free to take as much as you can use from here.

It is unlikely that I will be placing lettuces on this table outside of spring because of how easily they wilt in the heat, but I will be sharing on my social media channels when I have lettuces available; please reach out to me there if you would like some.

I will regularly be posting photos to my Instagram account of my growing garden, and I will be posting there every time produce is added to the community table/pantry, so if you’d like updates on when new produce is put out, be sure to follow @basilbeelife on Instagram and/or Basil Bee . garden . kitchen . lifestyle on Facebook, or just walk by! I also regularly update a blog where I write about gardening, preserving, and mom life: www.basilbee.ca

We’re asking nothing in return for the produce that we share with you, however, if you would like to express thanks, we would love it if you could add bounty from your garden to the community table/pantry (be it vegetables, fruit, flowers, seeds, seedlings, yummy food made from the produce, etc); share about this small community project and encourage others to bring a similar project to their own communities; offer your help with labour if you see me out working in the yard; or whichever way you feel is appropriate.

I do request that you respect our property and do not come onto it to pick any of our produce unless we have invited you to do so. I am carefully measuring the output of my garden as a portfolio project, so it is important that food is not taken without my knowledge. Please take only as much as your family will eat. Do not remove the table or the baskets and bowls on the table holding the produce.

I am so excited to share the bounty of my garden with you this year! If you want help or advice with your garden, please feel free to reach out any time. I am always happy to help more food to be produced in homes. If you are renting and don’t have the freedom to produce food in your yard but are interested in the process, or if you want your kids to be involved in learning about gardening, please also reach out and I would be thrilled to include you and your family in my gardening.

The day after we sent out these letters (which Cecilia and I hand delivered), our Instagram had a bunch of new followers and we had neighbours already dropping by, asking after the mint I had planted. My table wasn’t even out yet, and our neighbours were excited!

I’ve also applied for a Neighborhood Small Grant, for which I’ve been approved, which will allow me to grow plants specifically for this project AND build a planter box just for neighbour use. In it, I will be planting some lettuces, mints, and perhaps other small things, and posting videos to instruct neighbours on how to harvest these goodies for themselves. I will have another blog post though to share more about that project, which I’ve titled Hansard Growing.

As this project grows (pun intended) and I learn more, I hope that I can inspire other small neighbourhoods to do something similar. All it takes is one person to make a good change in their community!

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