It’s summertime and outdoor market season is back in swing.
Don’t you love to wander through the colourful stalls and tents, chit chat with neighbours, and see what fresh veggies, fruits, treats, and artwork that local vendors have to offer? What do you consider when you’re choosing where to buy your food?
At the Bright’s Grove Market last year I came across Taproots Green Gardens’ table and learned that their food and farming practices support both people and planet; Taproots is passionate about the local food movement and its impact on community.
Ryan and Leah, who make their home in Sarnia, Ontario, are the founders of Taproots Green Gardens; they use sustainable, natural agricultural practices to grow their produce and provide Lambton County families and local businesses with fresh, healthy, and delicious food.
Taproots understands how social and environmental justice are intimately connected and they act on that understanding to provide food to the local community, from the local land, with a deep care for - and in service of- both.
Most recently, Taproots has partnered with The Inn of the Good Shepherd, new Wyoming restaurant, Loca, and Sarnia’s Call the Chef.
I asked Ryan to share some more about Taproots, green gardening practices, and his thoughts on agriculture & rewilding.
1. What led you to start Taproots?
As part of my education, I spent a good deal of time learning about the climate crisis, its causes and its implications. Everyone handles that knowledge differently. Some will make changes in their personal lives to live a little greener. Others will join protests, support causes, or take to politics. Then there are those who will ignore it and do nothing, and others who will outright deny it altogether. Having identified industrial agriculture as a leading contributor to the climate crisis, I began looking for alternatives. I wanted an active resistance to the status quo, so my work became my protest. One market garden alone cannot change the course of our march towards environmental catastrophe. But through our work in sustainable agriculture, Taproots serves as a template for an alternative to big ag, in hopes of helping to change the paradigm from mass production to production by the masses.
2. Can you tell us about your natural farming/garden practices?
There are many good books written on the subject, but in a nutshell it all comes down to the soil. At the root level (pun intended), a farmer is only as good as the soil for which he cares. These so-called farmers who practice monocropping, using synthetic fertilizers and chemical sprays, have destroyed the soil with which they steward. We do things much differently and on a human scale. We practice no-till methods so as not to disturb the soil structure and the microbiome which lives within it. We rotate crops from year to year and practice biodiversity, growing more than 40 different crops on just one acre. We use no chemicals whatsoever in our gardens. We apply natural fertility in the form of compost, chicken manure, and alfalfa meal, and we grow cover crops to help introduce biomass back to the land. All of that results in a healthy soil, which grows beautiful plants that thrive in a natural and holistic ecosystem.
3. Why do you think it matters that people have a relationship with their food and where it comes from?
If you subscribe to the belief that every dollar you spend is a vote cast toward the world in which you want to live, then people should think long and hard about what they put on their plates. Wendell Berry, the farmer, poet, and essayist, calls eating a political act. That’s very true. If you see yourself as an environmentalist, yet you don’t know where your food comes from, you are no less complicit in the destruction of our farmlands than the farmer spraying the chemicals because you are directly supporting that model. The best relationship you can have with your food is to grow it yourself. There are few things more rewarding in this world. The second best thing is to know the farmer who grew it and the way in which it was grown. This takes much more effort than a trip to the grocery store, but making meaningful change always does.
4. Can you share some tips for people starting out with gardening or produce farming or who want to make the shift to sustainable agriculture but may be struggling with insects and the elements? How do you grow flourishing, healthy plants, without the use of pesticides and in the unpredictable climate?
Just start! That’s the number one thing. You will learn as you go. You don’t need any fancy books or formal education. It’s the age of the internet and an answer is always just a google search away. For the backyard gardener: if you’re intimidated, you can buy transplants from the nursery, but I think the journey is much more gratifying if you start from seed. It’s magic really!
For those who are interested in market gardening at scale, then yes there are plenty of very helpful books to guide you, but better than that is practical experience. Find a farm to work for or volunteer. Every farmer I’ve met is always eager to share their knowledge. Above all else, get your hands in the soil! There exists a primitive connection with the Earth that is infectious. Be patient, observe, and let Mother Nature do her thing. Intervene only when necessary.
5. Agriculture uses a lot of land - what role can farmers like you and backyard gardeners play in rewilding and restoring natural biodiversity while continuing to provide sustainably grown food for their communities and families?
Part of what we’re trying to do is prove that it doesn’t have to! Small is beautiful. We grow on just a single acre of land. With practices like intercropping, succession planting, crop rotations, and healthy soil, so much food can be produced at a small scale! We provide veggie bags to 50 families each week throughout the growing season, serve another 50 or so through our online store, supply the local food banks mobile market, and even a small local restaurant!
We aren’t suggesting everyone become a market gardener, but we are suggesting that everyone should grow something! Whether that’s a small herb garden in your apartment, or a great big garden in the backyard, connecting with your food is one of the most important things you can do, not only for your own health, but for the health of our planet.
If you want to learn more about Taproots and shop their veggies, check out their website https://www.taprootsgreengardens.com/ or better yet, drop by the garden. And if you're inspired...go get your hands dirty and grow something!