Growing our own in the city

Growing our own in the city

Even though it’s tons of work and likely won’t yield much, I am attempting to grow my first garden plot — in the city. Like most kids his age, my 9-year-old spends an inordinate amount of time glued to screens and not nearly enough time plugged into nature. As a family, we try to get outside as much as possible, biking to the soundtrack of birds, dog-walking through ravines. And yet there remains this disconnect, especially when it comes to our relationship to food. When I was young, like many kids, I HATED vegetables. Every single vegetable, in fact, except for corn. Looking back, it’s no wonder. My single mom did the best she could, but let’s face it, canned carrots and beans bear little resemblance to fresh ones. It wasn’t until I was a teenager and spent time helping with dinner at a friend’s that I learned to prepare (and sample) fresh vegetables. It was a revelation!

Julie & Jackson’s urban Garden

Now I’m hoping for a similar epiphany for Jackson. And though we have the tiniest plot and likely won’t harvest much of anything, it will be worth the effort just to see the look on his face when he plucks from the vine the cherry tomato he has spent weeks watering and tending and pops it straight into his mouth. No spraying or packaging required. I’m willing to wager a whole generation of fusspots would see their eating habits transformed if they felt more connected to their food (the kind of connection you don’t get via a McDonalds drive-thru.) Even having kids grow fresh herbs and veg in planters on a condo balcony is better than nothing.

This past year I’ve started training Jackson to be my sous chef in a bid not only to encourage self-sufficiency but in the hopes that helping prep a meal will make my fussy guy a more adventurous eater. Hey, a mom can hope! He has been game: chopping, peeling, washing — but I’ve decided to step it up. I decided we should grow our own. It’s time that my family gains an appreciation of the effort involved in growing produce. It’s time for Jacks, in particular, to realize fruit and veg don’t come in plastic cartons!

He was very enthusiastic when I told him my plan. He accompanied me to buy bags of soil and go on a reconnaissance mission to find stakes (sticks) during one of our walks. He chose what we would plant: a few types of tomato, cucumbers, and bell peppers. I really wish we had room for beans and carrots…

Jackson, working the land.

Unfortunately, living near the ravine, we have plenty of wildlife no doubt eager to nibble the fruits of our labours. Raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, mice, birds, groundhogs, even coyote. So I had to Macgyver makeshift fencing to keep out the critters. Although I fully expected Jackson to lose interest and head inside to watch Netflix within 10 minutes, he spent an entire afternoon in the sun weeding and transplanting perennials. Hand on heart, this is the first time he’s taken an interest in gardening. Will it last? Will it be worth the hassle?

As well as a city slicker, I’m also a realist. I try to buy organic when possible, but it can be expensive. And I can’t always get to the weekly farmer’s market in my neighbourhood. The road to green living is paved with good intentions.

So I do the best with what I’ve got, knowing the impact it could have on my son. If all else fails, he will never experience the horrors of a canned lima bean. And that’s worth celebrating.


Julie Green is a freelance writer, artist, and autism advocate. She lives in Toronto with her husband, son, and bulldog. Learn more at

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