It’s time to regrow our connection with food

Photo: 
Asparagus can grow up to five feet tall.
 
The asparagus we see on the dinner table is harvested by cutting small spears off the main plant. Any unused stalks unfurl into feathery ferns, making the plant look like a giant carrot top—not what you’d expect from asparagus. 
 
Food has become unfamiliar to us. Asparagus is a strange example, but it’s stuck with me over the past few months. How could I enjoy a vegetable so much, but not know what it looks like before it lands on my plate?
 
In August, I started volunteering with a family-run urban farm in Kingston. The produce was grown in the city’s community gardens. Some days I would be pulling carrots; others I was washing radishes or planting garlic. 
 
I started on a whim, wanting to reconnect with the part of my childhood spent in a local community garden—sneaking snap peas off the vines wherever I could find them—but also because I knew I wanted to grow some of my own food after university.
 
We talked while we worked. And, at the end of each day I took home a small bunch of carrots that I’d picked, sorted, and washed. They were clean, but I was covered in dirt.
 
It felt good to be doing something that wasn’t work or school. It was a few hours when my hands were too dirty to see the time on my phone, let alone check emails. 
 
I was volunteering when I first saw asparagus growing in all its Dr. Seuss-like glory. It bothered me that I couldn’t recognize what I had eaten a few nights ago.
 
It’s bizarre that food, something with us every day from birth until death, has become a stranger. But that relationship can be mended.
 
Community gardens provide a space to learn what whole food looks like while experimenting with sustainable living. 
 
Our future requires us to be more sustainable, which means easing our reliance on mass-produced foods—swapping out veggies wrapped in plastic and shipped farther than they should be for produce we could grow in our backyards.
 
These spaces make sustainability accessible and keep us outside, invested in our food, because we want that feeling of accomplishment when a seedling pokes through.
 
They provide an organic (pun intended) community of support and education—because they’re more personal than just spaces. A little garden time, with others learning and sharing alongside each other, accomplishes more than shrinking environmental impact.
 
Community gardens foster community—the key is in the name.
 
What community gardens offer are relationships: those between us and our food and one another. 
 
Rachel is one of The Journal’s Features Editors. She’s a fourth-year English student.
 

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