A Bounty From Your Own Backyard (or Balcony)
We all know what a bummer looking for a summer job can be for students. There's the whole Catch 22 thing where you can't get a job without experience, and you can't get experience without a job.
Then there are those go-getters. The people who know what they want out of life, pull up their socks, go out there, and take it. I caught up with 27 year old Laura Kalbun, an urban planning student at Ryerson University who did just that. After doing the whole bummed-about-not-finding-a-summer-job thing, Laura decided to take two of her passions - sustainability and food - and join them in the perfect marriage of urban agriculture.
From this union Backyard Harvesting was born, a company through which Laura offers custom garden solutions for both house and condo dwellers in the downtown core.
This was made possible with a little help from a Summer Company Grant available through the Ministry of Small Business and Consumer Services).
Whether it's a full backyard, an earthy patch beside your driveway, or a few feet on a balcony, Laura thinks that growing your own edible garden is the way to go. "The local food movement is helping to raise awareness that our cities can be used in ways that have not occurred in generations... food production is one of those uses. Before and during World War II most people had a vegetable garden patch. We need to start thinking more locally because eating food from all over the world at all times of the year is not always going to be viable and going back to the garden patch is one way of doing that."
Backyard Harvesting focuses on organic vegetables and herbs, and the selection is staggering. Laura offers all the garden staples like carrots, tomatoes, lettuce and squash plus a few fun options like okra, melons, hot peppers and eggplant. There are over 100 varieties (including heirloom) available. There is a solid selection of herbs too. She sources nearly all her plants and seeds from Urban Harvest, who specializes in organic seedlings and garden supplies.
Having launched Backyard Harvesting in May, Laura is seeing most of her business in backyards. But she launched the balcony boxes in June and expects those to become more popular, now that the weather is finally (sort of) getting warmer and people spend more time on their balconies. As of right now, it's a solo labour of love for Laura. She peddles around Toronto on her bike whenever possible to get to consultations and do routine weeding and watering for clients.
And no, it's not too late to start your own summer garden! According to Laura, Toronto is a microclimate due to the urban heat island effect and we tend to get 2 extra weeks on each side of the growing season so many plants have a chance to mature up into mid-October.
Carrots, beans, and radishes can still be planted right now. She's had recent luck with lettuce and would even try cucumbers, a quick maturing squash, or beets. Kale and chard do well in the cold and taste better after a frost or two so they're great choices too. In mid to late August greens like spinach or peas can be planted.
So whether you green up your own thumb or enlist the help of someone like Laura, you can plan, plant, and produce your own little veggie patch before the summer's out.
Photos by Paul Dallas and Laura Kalbun
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