|City of Ottawa Councillor David Chernushenko at a communal garden in the downtown core of Ottawa, Oct 20, 2011. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY)
OTTAWA - This harvest season, backyard gardens are taking on greater importance: Survival and security.
"Our supermarkets don't actually store anything anymore. They are all stored in refrigerated trucks out on our highways," said David Chernushenko, an Ottawa city councillor and advocate for local food. "Our entire continent's food supply is heavily dependent on these trucks constantly moving on their way to us."
In the midst of the recession, so-called victory gardens are booming throughout the U.S. With many people out of work and struggling to afford fresh food, people are growing vegetables in their yards and stashing them for winter.
"In 1919, the creation of victory gardens was intended to be about long-term security, so that if some spectre rose up, we'd be ready," said Pamela Price, founder of the popular blog Red, White & Grew. "Understanding why food customs developed nationwide can tell you a lot about what will hold you up in a time of scarcity, and I see too many weak links in the chain."
Growing food became a patriotic duty in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain during the Second World War. Providing for one's self and supplying the troops made the country stronger.
Many are using that history as motivation to gain that same sense of security in a turbulent economy and amidst shifting global threats. Seed sales and food preserving supplies are in increased demand.
"We have definitely seen an increase in sales since the recession hit," said John Gail of Stokes Canada, the country's largest seed seller. "It's encouraging to see people relearning these basic skills, growing their own food."
Detroit is using the hundreds of vacant homes and factory lots and a high unemployment rate to spur an urban farming movement, even raising cattle within city limits.
Canadians are foraging closer to home too, with kitchen gardens, communal plantings, and farmers' markets cropping up across the country.
More than 400 official community gardens dot major cities, and many more grow in private yards. Vancouver allows city dwellers to keep chickens in their backyards, harkening back to the turn of the last century when the federal government offered "poultry advice" as a matter of course.
Chernushenko thinks food security is something people from all political stripes should think about.
"Whether it's a border-crossing stoppage or a spike in fuel supplies, a power outage -- all of these things have happened in recent enough memory that people are saying: 'Hey, should I be this vulnerable?'"