Your Garden as a Carbon Sink

Posted on Wednesday, 7 October 2020 under Stories

Our gardens have the incredible ability to act as carbon sinks. Home gardeners can apply many of the same principles as large farms on a much smaller scale. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, victory gardens and community gardens are rapidly growing in popularity.  Seed sales have more than tripled as people look to take control of their access to fresh food.

Gaining an awareness of how soil mitigates climate change allows the home gardener to understand the important role it plays. In our 2019 report, Climate Change Mitigation Opportunities, the outlined practices to avoid include plowing, rototilling, and extensive digging. When gardeners and farmers use these practices, they can break up fungal networks and expose buried soil to the air, allowing stored carbon to be “released” into the atmosphere.

Home and community gardeners may not realize the powerful opportunity they have to make a positive, meaningful impact.  City Beet Farm is a small-scale, multi-site urban farm located in Vancouver.  They are transforming homeowners’ yards from grass to highly productive farm sites. This unique approach to farming is a commitment between homeowners and farmers.

City Beet Farm was started in 2013, by two young women, Ruth and Katie who had a passion for farming but were unable to afford access to land. They came up with a creative solution to use neighbourhood front and back yards as farmland to grow fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Over the years, the farm has evolved from 5 sites and 20 CSA members to 14 sites and 82 CSA members. Madelaine Clerk and Elana Evans, who took over the farm in 2016, host a weekly market and sell a small amount of produce through wholesale opportunities.

full community garden beds

Port Moody Police Department Community Garden plots.

City Beet Farm is a fantastic example of gardening for carbon management. “Definitely one of our top priorities [is] bringing organic matter back into the soil. We really try to maintain practices that are good on the soil,” says Clerk. Since they are gardening on small plots of land, they use hand tools and similar practices that you would see on an organic farm.  Since City Beet Farm is a multi-site urban farm, they cannot be certified organic.  When talking with Clerk, you can feel her passion for the land and understand the importance of taking good care of the soil.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, interest in gardening and using our yards to grow our own food has increased dramatically. “There’s tons of interest.  We get emails every week, and we’re really at capacity for what we want to be doing and how much labour we have,” says Clerk.  There was also a spike of interest in their CSA program.

I think a lot of folks just weren’t used to seeing their shelves bare and it was like really making people think about where do I get my food from,” says Clerk.

Due to the increased demand in gardening, Clerk hosted a workshop called, Tiny Gardens, to help educate people about the basics of growing their own food.

Moving from a typical, suburban yard to a productive farm plot might sound daunting, however, most of City Beet Farm sites have been transformed from grass. Their largest Southland site was transformed last year. “It took about 14 weeks to go from grass all the way through to our first radish harvest,  [change] can happen really quickly,” says Clerk. “I think the transformation from grass to a productive growing space is a really special thing.”

A recommended practice in gardening for carbon management is to never allow the soil to remain bare. Clerk suggests, “A good alternative for home gardeners is using leaf cover. We will go around and collect leaves and then we’ll cover our sites with leaves and then break it into pathways in the next year.”

women standing beside community garden beds

Port Moody Police Department Community Garden Coordinator, Lori Greyell.

Eaters without access to a yard space can access growing space by joining a community garden. Lori Greyell, Garden Coordinator for the Port Moody Police Department Community Garden, considers all members stewards of the land who must be mindful of their impact. An Organic Master Gardener, Greyell is passionate about growing her own food and also ensures that community gardeners implement carbon management.

She says, “All the gardeners have to put mulch on their plots or plant a cover crop and that’s part of the rules. It’s a great method for sequestering carbon and keeping the soil alive and the microorganisms happy in the soil.”

The Port Moody Police Department Community Garden which started in 2012, has grown to 62 plots in total and includes 4 plots for the food bank and 3 for the shared community kitchen. As a community, they operate workshops, work parties, both of which are great ways of learning about gardening and building community. Currently, they have a waitlist of approximately 70 families.

Adding perennial plants to your annual flower and vegetable beds also plays an important role in supporting soil health. The plant roots and the carbon they contain remain undisturbed each year. At the Port Moody Police Department Community Garden, gardeners commit to their plots for several years and incorporate many perennials.

The benefits for each gardener are different. For Greyell, “It would be the opportunity to grow my own food and food sovereignty. The sense of community with people from all different kinds of backgrounds and what you learn from making those connections. And also, the joy of watching a garden come to life from soil, seeds, plants, wildlife, and then back to the gardeners, who are the stewards of their plot of land, and the connections between all of them to create this ecosystem.”

Greyell’s passion shines through, “Everybody has a green thumb. It’s part of our nature to grow our food. I think it’s such great learning and experience, knowing that you’ve created this food and you bring it home and you enjoy it and there’s more satisfaction to the food that you’ve grown  and the sense of creating your own food system and sovereignty.”

Clerk reflects,  “We still need rural farms and local small scale farmers, but I think urban farming and gardening definitely increase urban food security. It also deepens our connection to those food systems.”