Gardening as a Climate Solution

Posted on Thursday, 12 May 2022 under Stories

Gardeners lovingly describe the satisfaction of watching a seedling wind its way skyward, the joy of harvesting a perfectly ripe tomato from the vine, and the unmatched taste of the squash that they carefully tended for months. Gardening brings us into a unique relationship with the world around us and with our food. By planting seeds, caring for soil, and paying attention to where the sun falls in our yard or on our patio, we grow closer to the earth we call home and pay more attention to the food we consume.

Gardening provides the opportunity to reduce our climate impact, contribute to climate solutions, and connect with each other. Through gardening, we can engage in having a positive impact on the earth and create more connected and sustainable communities.

We are amid what Civil Eats writers describe as a gardening renaissance. The gardening community is growing in numbers and enthusiasm with an increasing focus on gardening in environmentally conscious ways.

To me, gardening is the answer to every ill in the world, […] whatever the problem, whatever the question, gardening is the answer,” Lucretia Schanfarber says.

Schanfarber is a passionate gardener, host of the Gabbing About Gardening Radio Show on Cortes Island Radio, organizer of a popular gardening group on Facebook of the same name, and immersed in BC’s gardening community.

Schanfarber is incredibly excited about how impactful gardening can be. She says, “Once we put our hands in the soil, without gloves, which is essential to our mental health and well-being, we start to experience everything very differently, including how we taste food, how we see food, how we enjoy food, and the beauty of food growing. It’s certainly the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had outside of being a mother.”

Dan Hayden and Miche Warwick are avid food growers. They describe the satisfaction of watching their two-year-old pull an enormous carrot out of the ground and hold it up in triumph, the greens stretching higher than their head. Hayden says, “It feels really, really incredible. There aren’t a lot of things that compare to it.”

Hayden and Warwick grow food at Happy Hills Farm for their community in Rossland, BC. Before starting a farm together, Hayden and Warwick’s passion for growing food began in their backyard. They believe growing food, whether on your windowsill or at a farm, is one of the most meaningful ways to contribute to positive change.

With so many crazy things going on in the world with the environment and climate change, growing food is something we feel can tangibly do to contribute to something better,” Warwick describes.

Tayler Krawczyk and Solara Goldwynn are dedicated home gardeners and run an inspiring edible landscaping business, Hatchet & Seed. Through their business, they support folks in Victoria to establish edible gardens and grow more of their own food. Despite the fact they run a landscaping company with five crew members, they say, “We don’t own a lawnmower, we cover up lawns with cardboard and gardens.” Their designs increase biodiversity and require minimal fossil fuels to maintain.

The majority of the plants that Hatchet & Seed includes in their landscaping projects are edible. They design the gardens they work on to function as ecosystems with diverse components that work together and produce an abundance of food. They say, “Everything has a use, and it’s meant to be engaged with, it’s meant to grow over time and run through succession.”

Photos by Hatchet & Seed

After finishing his degree in International Development Studies, Krawczyk felt like he had learned valuable critical questions, but was left searching for positive solutions. He discovered gardening and found it to be an inspiring way to participate in working towards positive change. Krawczyk and Goldwynn describe how significant gardening can be for our personal well-being and as a way to reduce our climate impact.

While gardening can feel insignificant in the context of the enormity of the climate crisis, growing food is valuable for mental health and as a way to connect with the earth. Goldwynn says, “It’s grounding. You’re literally grounding with the earth and that can have such a positive effect on your well-being.”

Gardens can be a valuable support for ecosystem health, providing beneficial plants to pollinators, and a habitat for insects and birds. Share on X

Krawczyk drives home the impact of gardening by imagining what might happen if no one grew food in their backyards. That could seem fairly insignificant at first, but the negative ripple effects over decades would be significant. People would begin to lose touch with the seasonality of food and the local knowledge that gardeners carry would be lost. Imagining a world without gardeners shows the significance of what gardeners contribute.

Claire McGillivray, Farm Coordinator for the Edible Garden Project, describes how valuable it is to build awareness and have spaces where people can experience firsthand climate solutions in action. She says, “Sometimes it’s hard for folks to imagine what solutions could look like until they see them.”

The Edible Garden Project is a community-based non-profit that works to inspire and empower their community to grow food. Their programs provide a diversity of ways to get involved and learn more about gardening and the local food system. They place an emphasis on “Providing and increasing food access for those who are most in need,” McGillivray says.

Gardening is a powerful way to build connections and bring people together. “The simple act of working together on a shared task, especially when it’s something that’s so physical, tangible and relatable,” McGillivray says, creates unique opportunities for connection.

Ariel Reyes Antuan, co-founder of Iyé Creative, a grassroots food justice collective in Greater Victoria, shares similar thoughts on bringing people together and forming stronger communities through gardening. Iyé Creative’s work supports and ensures the participation of racialized and marginalized people in the local food system. Reyes Antuan says, “If we don’t lift each other up, start collaborating, and getting together as a community, for me, we are in trouble.”

When Reyes Antuan discovered the technique of burlap sack gardens, a method of gardening in burlap sacks that originates and is practiced across East Africa, the idea resonated with him as a way to connect with his identity and create more resilient and supportive communities. He started Palenke Greens, an initiative that supports people who are Indigenous and of African descent to grow food through the traditional technique of burlap sack gardens. Since 2020, the Palenke Greens initiative has helped create more than 90 burlap sack gardens and distribute 100 seedlings.

Reyes Antuan sees gardening as a way to give people hope, showing them that it is possible to regain agency and grow some of their own food. He says, “If we are able to mentor, teach, and inspire them to recognize their contribution within our local food systems, those people are going to participate. When those people participate, they bring those communities and wisdom that they represent,” to fighting the climate crisis and building local food systems.

Photo by Hatchet & Seed

There are many ways to implement gardening practices that make your gardens more sustainable and reduce your impact. In many cases, these practices also lead to more productive and healthy gardens.

For those with limited space, there are ways to grow food in small spaces without a garden. Burlap sacks, windowsills, countertops, hanging window planters, and apartment patios are all perfect places to start growing food.

So much of gardening comes down to tending to and caring for the soil. Many practices to make your garden more sustainable center around improving soil health and being conscious of external inputs.

Hayden and Warwick from Happy Hills Farm describe how the more you take care of the soil, the more it will nourish healthy and resilient plants. Warwick explains, “Every time you grow something, it takes nutrients out of the soil.” If those nutrients are not returned, whether through compost, cover crops, or another way, the soil becomes increasingly depleted.

Goldwynn and Krawczyk from Hatchet & Seed also describe how crucial soil health is. Healthier soil has an increased ability to retain water. The more we add to our soil organic matter, the more drought-resistant and flood-tolerant our soils are. Goldwynn says, “When you create better soil structure, you can have a more resilient system.”

An important aspect of sustainable gardening is using the inputs and resources that are closest to you. Rather than using heavily processed materials that have often been transported long distances, find ways to incorporate resources that are close at hand and easily available. Lucretia Schanfarber, a passionate and active gardener who has been involved in her local gardening community for years, recommends gardeners explore using their own urine, leaf mulch, hay, grass clippings, seaweed, and cardboard to make nutrient-rich compost.

Photo by Lucretia Schanfarber

There are many exciting opportunities to reduce our impact and contribute to climate solutions through gardening, but it is important to not put pressure on the need to ‘get it right’. There is no such thing as a perfect garden.

The garden is a place to experiment and explore. Regardless of our depth of knowledge and seasons of experience, we can find joy in the process, build relationships with plants, and learn to relate to the world around us and the food we eat in a more intimate way.

Starting to garden is daunting, but there is no need to know everything before you begin. Mishaps and setbacks are inevitable, and an important part of the process. Join a gardening group or community garden, attend a gardening workshop, do research online, or speak with a knowledgeable gardener. It can be helpful to take a long view, “Start today so that you can become an 80-year-old gardener,” Krawczyk says.

Through gardening, we can reduce our climate impact, contribute to climate solutions, and connect with each other and the earth in a meaningful way. As we plant seeds, care for the soil, and harvest the freshest of produce, we can mitigate climate change, support our well-being, and make this earth a better place.