It was rainy and cold, but it was worth it. Weaving my way through an assortment of small booths and tents pitched during the Purple Onion Festival, hosted on September 23rd in Millennium Park, I hardly perceive the wintry breeze that nipped at my fingertips. Likeminded people thrive at events such as these; feasting together on the grass are health conscious individuals, local farmers, students with a passion for building a greener planet, musicians and people who just generally love good, wholesome food.
Susan Hubay, a Peterborough County-City Health Unit organizer, was kind enough to speak with me about this year’s festivities, and to share her reflections on the recent successes of the Peterborough Community Garden Network. As we stood chatting together, ignoring the autumn wind, Susan began by telling me about the Festival’s main objectives.
The Purple Onion Festival’s goal was to bring together farmers, school breakfast and snack programs, the Health Unit, family resource centre, YWCA, general public and anyone interested in buying, selling or growing local produce. The Peterborough Community Garden Network had a strong presence among the vendors. This group meets monthly to coordinate programs and discuss food agendas and policies. Everyone is welcome. The gardens themselves are located all across Peterborough. It is a volunteer based initiative, with sets of friends or families able to tend and harvest from their own plot of land, or to work as collective unit.
“The idea is to promote a self-reliant community,” Susan explains. “People become interested in the community gardens for a variety of reasons. Some want to learn new earth based skills. Others are trying to find a more affordable way of putting dinner on the table. The Peterborough Community Garden Network encourages the creation of nutritious and environmentally sound food. We even have the occasional student doing their research on our food projects!”
In addition to saving money on groceries and enjoying fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs, there is also the potential to toil alongside and learn from the knowledge of fellow gardeners with veteran experience in the field. When asked how exactly a community garden system is run, Susan good-naturedly handed me a PCGN pamphlet. It reads that, “Each garden group sets its own goals, guidelines, and fees. There is often a set of jobs that people work on together throughout the season to ensure that the garden will thrive.” Judging from the photographs of lush green foliage, the gardens are certainly prospering.
As I passed by jars of golden honey and beeswax candles, I was pleased to see that The Peterborough Poverty Reduction Network also had a strong presence at the Festival. In 10% of Peterborough households, people are worried about not having enough to eat because of a lack of money (as stated by the Peterborough County-City Health Unit). When food is transported many miles, the prices go up. This is why shopping at local stores and supporting your city’s farmers is immensely beneficial to both the buyer and seller. It keeps money in the community. Poverty and quality of life issues are not always easy topics to address. However, having public conversation about solutions to such problems as adequate food access is the first step to erasing them entirely.
The beauty of the Purple Onion Festival is that real people who are passionate about changing our relationship with food are able to congregate and realize that they are not alone in pursuing their dreams. Events like this build a stronger sense of community. They also connect people with the land, and with one another. The PCGN describes that a large part of their vision is to grow community gardens as a “key tool for food security.” In today’s world of purchasing bottled drinking water to satisfy our most basic need, and spending money on prepackaged meals that have been flown halfway across the globe, all while paying a nonsensically high price to do so, it is comforting to know that there are men and women in the City of Peterborough who still share close ties with the land.
“I am not afraid of getting my hands dirty,” one student told me, laughing. “And you shouldn’t be either.”
Interested in getting involved?
Contact the Peterborough Community Garden Network