Vancouver Islanders converting front yards to food production

Front yard redevelopment transforming urban dwellers from consumers, to producers

Since smothering his front lawn with a layer of brown cardboard and six inches of soil in 2014, Gary MacDougall and family have grown so much food they often have to share, trade or give it away.

Even in December, two of the dozen rows in the front garden at the MacDougalls (Gary, Petra and their three children) are teeming with winter greens arugula, spinach, kale, chard and lettuces. Outside of the deer fence, near the road, is a prolific berm of garlic that goes untouched by Oak Bay’s favourite ungulates. In the backyard, the family keep chickens which lay plenty of eggs and contribute to the compost (which MacDougall installed inside the coop) to become part of the food production cycle.

READ ALSO: Ten year waits for communiuty allotment gardens in Oak Bay

For MacDougall, it’s more than a high-intensity urban farm that produces so much garlic he trades it for fruit with other Oak Bay residents. It’s a carbon sink, a use of the land that is a major piece of the puzzle in fighting the climate crisis.

He’s so excited about it, he’s invited anyone who wants to visit and talk about growing food to stop by at 1 p.m. on Sunday to his house at 961 Runnymede Pl.

“Look what we can do with grassroots,” MacDougall said. “We can restore lawns to natural habitat, grow food, and create carbon sinks. We have to move from being consumers, to producers. And it brings the community together.”

MacDougall is also a part of a growing movement in which residents are converting their lawns into native meadows, food producing gardens, or a mixture of both.

There aren’t a lot of front yards converted into food production in Oak Bay but there are a few. It’s a fast-growing part of the business that Kristen Miskelly, with her partner James, do with their company, Saanich Native Plants.

“There is a huge pickup on it, there is a tide-shift,” Miskelly said.

The couple started in 2013 at Haliburton Farm in Saanich and have added a nursery field in Cobble Hill. They run workshops on how to convert your lawn back into a native meadow and have taken on full conversion projects of big properties in Saanich and Oak Bay.

READ MORE: Matchmaking service connects gardeners with plots

“I’m hearing, ‘Of course you would convert your lawn,’ kind of language, so I expect a lot of lawn conversion to be happening, like it’s normal language,” Miskelly said. “There’s momentum there, whereas when we started these workshops a few years ago there wasn’t that much awareness in that way.”

The workshops start with how to approach removal of the lawn, and go from there.

“You can absolutely have a blend of year-round food production, with a small meadow, an orchard, as there are all sorts of ways to approach it,” Miskelly said. “Meadows are part of a traditional food system on the South Island such as nodding onion and camas that respects the thousands of years that these plants co-existed with the people here.”

There is an emerging urgency that grass is a wasted space, and that gardens and meadows are a piece of the puzzle when it comes to fighting climate change at home.

“For some, it’s a pollinator focus,” Miskelly said. “For some it’s esthetics, and for some it’s harvest. People need to think, the more of these meadows and gardens, the more bees and butterflies can go hop-scotching in urban settings from one patch of plant diversity to another.”

MacDougall said his Sunday gathering is about doing something good for the planet, a chance to talk about how your property can store Co2 and grow food.

“Nothing long, let’s meet for 40 minutes, an hour, get together and celebrate growing food and to communicate ideas of the climate,” he said.

reporter@oakbaynews.com


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