BLOG: Insects - Friend or Foe

Insects: Friend or Foe?

In preparation for the Garden Patch’s Insects Friend or Foe workshop, we delved into the insect world to bring you interesting information about the best and the worst inhabitants of our Saskatoon gardens. Insect management can be as simple or complex as you want it to be, but if you know that insects in your garden can be friends as well as foe, small farmers and home gardeners can have gardens that also teem with insect life, and indeed are healthier because of it.

One of the exciting things about growing food in a limited space (in our case 1.5 acres) is that we are able to take care of our garden in a way that would be almost impossible on a typical farm in Saskatchewan. For example, most gardeners have experienced picking the Colorado Potato Beetle off of their taters and killing them by hand or in soapy water. Doing the same thing in a 1,668-acre farm (Saskatchewan’s average in 2011) is hard to imagine.

One of the things we enjoy about the Garden Patch is how diverse our crops are, the way we rotate our crops, and our healthy mix of flowers and food. These things are perfect for attracting a wide range of insects. Gardeners who come to the Garden Patch might not see the secret world of insects at first, but it coexists with us under every leaf; in the mulch; and on our flowers.

This year our most destructive pest is the Sunflower Beetle, a new inhabitant of the garden that we have not figured out how to control, other than by picking off the larva regularly. But looking at them reveals a secret to insect management. Some of our sunflowers are separated by paths and large areas of garden plots from the others. These separations have allowed some of the sunflowers to escape the damage by the beetles! What we can take away from this is that by spacing out your plants and having a mix of different plants rather than blocks of one plant, you are able to reduce pest damage.

Another pest we’ve seen in the garden this year was the Western Forest Tent Caterpillar. These are the caterpillars we’ve been seeing each spring that swarm bushes and trees. These pesky caterpillars can be easily controlled by picking them off by hand, by spraying with a soapy mixture, and even better, by removing the eggs in autumn (which we’ll demonstrate at the workshop).

Amidst the pests are also some garden heroes, such as the ladybug, lacewings and dragonflies! These insects naturally keep the pest population low by eating them. At our workshop we’re going to look at all of these garden heroes and learn how to identify them in your own garden.

BLOG: Engaging Youth in Social Justice

There is seldom a day when I don’t see one or more youth come through the doors of the Saskatoon Food Bank & Learning Centre (SFBLC) to engage with us on some level. During my time here, I have seen dozens of children walk up to the front reception declaring proudly, rightfully so, that they collected items of food or money at their birthday parties instead of gifts, or that they sold homemade braided bracelets or other items to their friends, all in an effort to raise money for the SFBLC.

Other youth give up their free time to come in and volunteer with us, sorting food, putting together hamper bundles in our Warehouse, or even to help sort clothing donations at our Clothing Depot. These youth are here for many different reasons – some as a result of course requirements, others with classmates and teachers in classes that build regular volunteer work with us into their studies, and many that come in independently out of interest and passion for the work we do.

Sherbrooke Community Centre iGen students delivered their We Scare Hunger donations!

Sherbrooke Community Centre iGen students delivered their We Scare Hunger donations!

I am always impressed to see youth getting involved in the community, immersing themselves in activities that vary widely - from volunteering at various organizations across the city, to joining global citizen or eco clubs at school, or spending time with seniors at a local care home. These are youth that know that this work is key to community cohesion, to breaking down barriers between various members of the community with different life experiences and backgrounds. Importantly, their perspective on the more disadvantaged members of our community might have changed. Where misunderstandings may have previously existed, empathy and a more complex perspective could flourish.  This kind of attitude shift is a critical one – and one that is difficult to teach without direct experience.

They know, or will learn, that the more they get involved, the more everyone benefits. The youth themselves broaden their horizons, are empowered to take initiative to get involved, and the community is strengthened through every hour of their volunteer work or engagement with relevant clubs/groups. However it happens, youth engagement on issues of social justice is immensely important; there is no shortage of suffering and disadvantage in our community and elsewhere.

These youth are current or future community leaders. They will continue to grow into adults that are aware of the importance of community engagement. Many will become unofficial advocates for disadvantaged populations as a result of their increased knowledge, or will spread important information about the work of various community organizations. Their involvement may light a spark, one that will continue to burn and grow within them throughout their lives.

When I see this perspective growing amongst youth, right in front of my eyes, I am very excited. I know that I will see some of the students that pass through the SFBLC in the future, acting as community leaders, influencers, and long-term, dedicated volunteers and ambassadors. I am honoured to play a part in encouraging their growth.  As adults, that is our role in this, to support youth in the causes they choose to take on and encourage them to get involved. 

BLOG: Celebrating Canadian Agriculture Day

Happy Canada's Agriculture Day!

Today is a great day to thank a farmer! I love opportunities to recognize the hard work done on farms around the country and there is a lot to celebrate in Canadian Agriculture. However, I will start with a reflection on some challenges facing farming in Canada. In the last twenty years the number of farms has shrunk dramatically and today farmers are scarcer and older than ever before. Between shrinking numbers and more Canadians who live in cities, fewer of us have ever met a farmer. If so many Canadians don’t know about farming I think we are justified in wondering who the next generation of farmers will be. But I have good news! There is a lot of energy and effort going into helping the next generation of our food producers. It is also great that the urban-rural lines that are often drawn between producers and consumers are blurring: more people are growing their own food, going to farmers markets, participating in community gardens, and trying out commercial urban agriculture.

The demographics of urban agriculture are very different than traditional farms. Urban farmers tend to be younger, their farms are smaller, the entry costs tend to be low, and they often involve their community as stakeholders or volunteers. The social aspects of urban agriculture are often celebrated. The Garden Patch, for example, is dedicated to teaching people about food production and good gardening techniques. This year 2,300 people visited the garden and many of them left with a clearer picture of what growing food in the heart of the city looks like. It is so exciting when people get inspired to grow their own food or get their hands dirty harvesting food for our Emergency Food Hampers. I believe strongly that we cultivate more than just food, we cultivate community.

Something I like to ask people when I give a tour is: “do you know a farmer?” Depending on the group a few people will raise their hands, definitely more here than when I lived in Winnipeg. Then I try to ask some follow-up questions: Have you visited CHEP’s Askîy project? Do you know someone who has a plot in a community garden or allotment? Have you visited the Garden Patch before? Do you know a Beekeeper? These are all examples of growing food and many of them are community focused. I will also remind people that farmers are not mysterious entities. Have you gone to the farmers market? Do you or your parents get weekly veggies through a community supported agriculture (CSA) project? By this time many more people’s hands are raised. Farming takes many forms and I like to keep the definition inclusive.

A look at how the land where the Saskatoon Food Bank & Learning Centre Garden Patch now is has evolved over the years.

A look at how the land where the Saskatoon Food Bank & Learning Centre Garden Patch now is has evolved over the years.

Urban agriculture has a bright future. The opportunities in this dynamic sector of agriculture continue to change and evolve. The Saskatoon City Council recently amended their vacant lot adaptive reuse strategy (VLAR) to make it possible to grow food on vacant lots, you can grow food on boulevards, or keep bees. There are so many opportunities that I have missed that I can only apologize and say you are awesome too! Soon we may see green walls, more edible landscaping and green roofs, a food forest, or a community orchard. The possibilities are endless and there are urban spaces that will produce food in the future that we cannot even grow grass on today. So in closing I hope you take a moment today, or any day this year, and think about the amazing people who grow our food. Some of them live in Saskatchewan, others are a part of a huge global community of food producers. However, the ones I think you will have the easiest time thanking face-to-face are the ones who live right next door.

Thank you!

Adrian Werner
Urban Agriculture Program Manager
Saskatoon Food Bank & Learning Centre

If you're interested in getting more involved in urban agriculture in Saskatoon, consider forming a team and Adopt-A-Plot in our Garden Patch.  

We're Hiring in the Garden Patch!

The Saskatoon Food Bank & Learning Centre Garden Patch is now hiring for the 2017 growing season!  We're looking for individuals with a passion for food security, urban agriculture and educating others about these topics. There are currently four positions posted, three of which are summer student positions.  

Job Descriptions

Summer Student Positions

To apply for any of the above positions, please send your resume and cover letter to the Urban Agriculture Program Manager, Adrian Werner, at office@saskatoonfoodbank.org by the application closing date.