Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Morning in the Garden with Vegetable Patch's Jesse Payne


The other day I spent the morning in an organic vegetable garden with Jesse Payne of Vegetable Patch. An organic garden, you say? This must have been in the countryside or on a farm! Actually it was in the backyard of a typical suburban home in the West end of Ottawa! With his business, Vegetable Patch, Jesse has worked with local homeowners to take advantage of the unused greenspace in their backyards and create organic vegetable gardens. In return, Jesse provides them with vegetables, and also sells his veggies by the basket to the public. So far he has five large gardens with a total garden space of about a third of an acre in use.

When I met Jesse, he resembled any guy I might have met in an indie bar in Toronto with his plaid shirt, distressed jeans and beard, but I quickly realized that he isn't a hipster trying to be trendy -- this guy is the real deal. He actually IS a farmer. A super laid back guy, easy to talk to and clearly passionate about what he is doing, Jesse enjoys the entire process from cultivating the land, to tending and harvesting, and delivering baskets to happy home cooks.

Not since my job at a camp 2 summers ago did I greet the day when the dew was still fresh on the grass, but the bugs didn't have any trouble tracking me down. Bugs and all I was keen to get some dirt under my nails and find out more about Jesse and what he was doing. This guy is greening up Ottawa's landscape one vegetable patch at a time, and he's loving every minute of it.

Even though I was adding to my carbon footprint by driving into the city and defensively deking my way through rush hour traffic, all thoughts of negativity vanished when I witnessed that gorgeous golden sunrise surrounded by a soft pink sky. I thought to myself, "I should get up this early all the time!" I pulled up to the house and was greeted by some lively dogs barking hello. In this particular garden there were many veggies growing: peas, beans, buttercup squash, radishes, tomatoes, celery, red cabbage, carrots, mint, watermelons,butternut squash, acorn squash, zucchini, Hungarian yellow peppers, eggplant and Oka orange melons!

The beans were ready so we got down to business. I worked every muscle in my body picking those beans -- forget about your personal trainer or fancy pilates studio -- get your butt into a garden for a morning!

While we weeded gardens and continued working, Jesse told me his story. Turns out he traded his pinky ring for a green thumb. Originally from Carleton Place, Ontario, he grew up growing things in the garden with his family and ended up going to school for engineering. After working in the engineering biz for a while, he decided to go back to his roots, literally, and get back in the garden. Thus, Vegetable Patch was born. Customers in the Ottawa area can sign up and receive weekly or bi-weekly baskets of fresh, local produce within the growing season from July to October.

In the future, Jesse hopes to take Vegetable Patch in an educational direction, allowing youth to work as urban farmer interns for the summer, learning how to grow food and manage a large garden: "I want Vegetable Patch to become a model of inspiration for urban agriculture in all canadian cities." Jesse is still in the discovery phase but he certainly has a passion for gardening and the local food it produces.

When I asked him his views on the Local Food Movement in general he had this to say:
"Food security is an extremely important issue that we are just beginning to address. The local food movement is a reaction to questions brought up when addressing food security. For example: why is it uncommon for my food to come from local producers? I believe that sourcing more local food and developing good urban agricultural practices to be vital to any attempt at establishing a sustainable and secure food future for all North American cities."

Well, I don't know about you but I'm inspired already. I look forward to seeing Vegetable Patch grow and prosper in the future. As I left Jesse in the garden that morning I felt optimistic that more urban gardeners might crop up because of projects like Vegetable Patch. Jesse is also optimistic about Ottawa's commitment to local food: "There is definitely a movement of its own going on in the city."

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