National and International “Days”:
So Many Choices
A Personal Perspective on the personality behind our Ashbridge Estate Urban Farm
By: Kate Hamilton
The first months of the calendar year are a lovely time for a farm: snug indoors planning the season, poring through catalogs – so many choices! – envisioning what the season will be & where everything will go.
The labour is a few months away, and so are the weather surprises which drown spinach and parch beans. In January and February, the farm beds are perfect in the mind’s eye.
At the Building Roots urban farm, perched on an edge of Ontario Heritage Trust’s Ashbridge Estate in Toronto’s east end, we include crops from a variety of foodways – callaloo, molokhiya, mehti, Vietnamese coriander, &c. – as well as supermarket produce: peas, beans, greens, tomatoes, summer squash, root veg.
Our small harvests go to the PWYC Moss Park Market located at Queen and Sherbourne, but our main output is just as precious as farm-fresh organic veg: the learning and collegiality at the farm foster knowledge, skill, and happiness every week.
This year we’re hoping to resume on-site in-person programming. So many choices!
Our small orchard is tending towards becoming a food forest – there’s lots to know about there.
The herb garden is jam-packed with oregano, lemon thyme, sage, lovage, rue, summer savory, chervil, dill, chamomile, nasturtium, mints, and more. You can see how they grow, pick a stem to smell, find out how to cook with them, taste them as a tea or in a dip.
Then there’s botany – not a dry subject when the plants are growing right in-front of you!
- Our over-wintered pepper plants have grown into sturdy small bushes (yes, they’re perennials).
- The flowers of eggplant, tomato, peppers, ground cherry, Japanese lanterns, and nicotiana are surprisingly similar: they belong to the same plant family.
- Almost all mints have square stems and a few other things in common; that family includes lemon balm, thyme, oregano, lavender, basil, and rosemary.
- There are hundreds more kinds of beans than you find in a store – some cook up into a creamy, savory broth, others hold their shape and are best in chili or stew; some taste like hazelnuts and others like fresh green beans.
We feed pollinators too – with great masses of borage, clover, bee balm, and yarrow; dill and coriander; chamomile and thyme; spring bulbs and apple blossoms for an early feed and asters for the fall days. Watching a half-dozen kinds of bees busily feeding opens the way for discussions of small farms, hedgerows, and the dynamic relationship between native plants, insects, and songbirds.
My February task is to corral this bounty into just a few workshop topics.
So many choices!
To start, I created a calendar and populated it with holidays and other relevant days of observation – Earth Day for sure, and the summer solstice; World Environment Day and World Food Day (that’s about hunger) … skip National Kissing Day … keep National Unicorn Day for a giggle …
Whoa. July has upset me.
In July, Canada (purportedly) marks –
- National Fried Chicken Day – July 6
- National French Fry Day – July 13
- Ice Cream Day – July 17
- National Hot Dog Day – July 20
- National Cheesecake Day – July 30
- National Avocado Day (??!) – July 31
There’s no other month like it. Other months have Canada Parks Day, International Day of Cooperatives, Remembrance of Victims of Religious Violence, Terry Fox Day – all about raising awareness of the environment and of each other
… interrupted by a month celebrating highly-processed salt, fat, and sugar?
Those have no place on our urban farm’s workshop calendar.
Where are National Prairie Grains Day, National Maritime Potatoes Day, National Northern Products Day, National Fisheries Day, National Small Fruit Day?
What about National Garlic Day, National Wild Greens Day, National Oka Melon Day, National Saskatoonberry Day, National Wild Blueberry Day (we’re the world’s largest producer and exporter), National Lentil Day (Saskatchewan is the world’s largest exporter of green lentils), National Mustard Day (we’re the world’s largest exporter of mustard seed)?
Or National Urban Agriculture Day, National Pollinators Day, National Native Plants Day, National Canadian Varieties Day, National Open-pollinated Seed Producers Day?
So many worthy choices – any of them better than a National Hot Dog Day.
Working on our little urban farm teaches us to celebrate our own.
That’s how we know our own, love our own, keep our own.
… And if we must celebrate self-indulgence in salt, fat, and sugar in July – there are loads of distinctively Canadian contenders – National Poutine Day or National Salmon Candy Day, National Butter Tart Day or National Nanaimo Bar Day, National Peameal Bacon Day or National Tourtiere Day, …
… or the widely loved even if not uniquely Canadian – fiddleheads, pemmican, maple syrup, balsam tips, sourdough pancakes, pierogies and roast corn, pickerel and perch, mussels and oysters, caribou stew and cranberries, shawarma and tacos and bahn mi and sushi, halva and gulab jamun, the Montreal bagel and the Halifax donair …
We have delights, accomplishments, treasures all around us, if only we look.