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Front Yard Farmers Sow Seeds Of Sustainability

Get a good job, start a family, move to a nice neighbourhood and rip up the front lawn it s not the traditional to-do list.

But for front yard farmers such as Rhena and Doug Harold, who traded sod for veggies in front of their tidy bungalow last spring, growing food at home is a way to create connection with the produce they eat.

We had this lawn, but we just keep watering it and watering it, said Doug. It wasn t doing us any good.

So after six years of lawn maintenance, the Stonewall couple went online to research organic vegetable growing.

We also used heritage seeds for about 90 per cent of it; we wanted to have some unique varieties, added Rhena.

The decision paid immediate benefits for their two young sons, said the stay-at-home mom, as the boys got to plant whatever they wanted in their own raised vegetable beds.

We really wanted to show our boys where food comes from, said Doug.

This year s crop included beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, chard, lettuces, sunflowers, radishes, beets and carrots. The family also faced off against hungry birds and canola beetles, which they vanquished using a jalapeno and garlic mix.

I m a city guy so this was just an amazing experience. I was shocked to see how much we could actually grow and how much it would produce, he added.

The couple first checked with municipal officials to ensure they weren t violating any local bylaws, and designed the garden to be visually pleasing.

I m sure for the neighbours it was a huge shock, he added. It was quite a process, one where even if I had walked by not knowing I would have thought, What the heck?

The experience actually brought them closer to their neighbours, who often stopped by to check on the garden s progress.

Daniel Peloquin-Hopfner also worried about his neighbours reaction when he dumped three yards of manure onto a lawn in Winnipeg s Corydon Village.

Surprisingly, most of the comments we got were positive, said Peloquin-Hopfner. We realized, having moved to the city, that most people are out of touch with where their food comes from, and a lot of people were interested in what we were doing.

The Winnipeg-based musician grew up in the Ste. Rose du Lac area, eating garden-fresh produce from his parents and grandparents gardens. He wanted to keep growing his own food after transitioning to city life.

It seemed like a no-brainer, he said. We were just so sick of seeing grass lawns all over the place, and all this wasted space. So we decided to make the best of it.

With the help of four house-mates, Peloquin-Hopfner transformed a friend s front yard into a garden producing tomatoes, peas, kale, dill, beans and a few weeds.

They say the first year is worst for weeds, so we ll see about next year, he laughed. We kind of anticipated a bit of a gong show, and it was.

Weeds aside, the green-thumbed musician said he will continue to explore urban agriculture at his new residence next spring, possibly trying out vertical gardens to expand production.

If you live in the City of Winnipeg, you can t plant fruits or vegetables on the boulevard, but the front lawn is fair game under the Neighbourhood Livability By-law.

It really doesn t prevent you from planting anything so long as it s on your own property and it s not a noxious weed, said Jack Lubinski, superintendent of parks services for the downtown and northern part of the city.

Novice urban gardeners can also turn to the Urban Eatin Gardeners Worker Co-op for advice.

Melanie and Michael Richters used the service when they put in four raised vegetable beds in front of their River Heights home.

We re already involved with CSA (community-asupported agriculture), so this seemed like the next step, said Melanie. There were lots of things we didn t expect, but really wanted to have our children know about responsible food.

She said she hopes it s an idea that will catch on with others and she s not alone.

Lots of people have said maybe this will start a trend, and I think it will gain momentum, said Rhena Harold. Maybe next year, we ll see more.

shannon. [email protected]

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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