Cycling with Just Food Ottawa on a Hot Summer Day

The new splash pad in the Glebe Memorial Park was just as popular as the basil and tomatoes. 30 degrees in the shade was quite a challenge if there is no shade. I think I drank two litres of water in four hours.
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Checking out community gardens on excellent bike tour by Just Food Ottawa

Artistic at Voisins Housing Cooperative

I never knew so many cyclists would be interested in food and community gardens. Gardening, food and cycling, three of my long term favourites. Last Sunday, after a failed attempt a year before, I finally made it to the Just Food community garden tour. “Just Food’s mission is to work towards a vibrant, just and sustainable food system in the Ottawa region. Just Food is a grassroots, non-profit organization that includes staff, volunteers, community partners, members and funders“, says their website.

Both my grandfathers in Holland grew vegetables commercially in the thirties and in fact, one of them was one of the first who built a greenhouse in which you could actually walk. He apparently also invented a system to open a whole row of windows with one winch. Before that time, you’d have acres of glass boxes of probably 8 inches high. Countless are the stories of the hard work, getting up at 4 am and harvesting cucumbers at ankle level. Sadly both my grandfathers passed away at a very young age, one in 1946 in his late 30’s and the other one in 1961 at age 59 (that doesn’t bode well for yours truly, now I come to think about it). I never met my grandfathers.

My grandfathers in Holland had similar acres of these low glass boxes with vegetables. (source: There are similar pics in my family, but I don’t have them here in Canada.

With this background, I have a special interest in how people would grow food in the city. What better way than doing this Just Food self guided tour and cruise through Ottawa. Or so I thought. Little did I know, that a) it was a guided tour and b) 60 others decided to do the same. My planned hour and a half turned into a full fletched four hours sightseeing tour including picnic.

A stop at the bottom of one of the high rises at Lees Ave. The members won a competition and Fiskars came in to build this garden.
On our way

First, you have to understand that there is a lot of idealism here. I think for most people growing food is more of an educational experience than a practical one. Second, growing vegetables requires a lot of dedication: plots in the wrong place, people giving up, watering every day, seeds from the forest blowing in, too much shade (vegetables love sun, my friends), depleted soil, disappointing harvests (too dry or too wet). And when the crop is ready, it gets stolen by animals and humans (the difference is hard to tell sometimes) Fortunately, many are not deterred and manage decent plots. Other plots looked like the renter had run away in despair months ago, never to return.

Ottawa starts to resemble a real bike city. Getting 60 people through a light is a challenge.

The biggest disappointment is disappearing food. As Sue joked: “We started with welcome signs, than added a ‘Don’t harvest the vegetables‘ sign”. They are now (tongue in cheek) ready to put signs up with “Back off, watch for nuclear radiation‘ to deter people from taking food. O, the harsh realities of life in the city.

Yes, this is a vegetable garden. With a large educational component for children, everything goes in this garden. I liked the (Austrian) idea of piling soil on a log and then let it stay moist. Also, lots of mint and some eggplant.

It was interesting to hear that Fiskars sponsored communities to grow vegetables by coming in for a day and  build a garden in one day, about experiments with rotting logs that always stay moist, and community areas where everyone looks after the plot and harvest what is needed from a communal area. Many of the gardens are part of a housing or community cooperation. It works remarkably well and no one has been caught carrying off a wheel barrow full of carrots.

More cycling, note the Bixi bikes in the background. They must have spent a fortune on it, but the gentlemen maintained it was 7 dollars a day, without a pass. I doubt it.
I was very surprised to see virtually everyone chose to walk (or did one start to walk and the rest just followed). There is an abundance of space for cycling on the road. And I can think of worse situations. Also everyone walked the bike across cross-walks rather than just cycle across with the traffic.
All ages were participating.
Des Kennedy-esque: only in Canada would one find a hockey stick in a veggie patch.
A bed frame serving as a fence.
There were just as many bikes parked in one (!) spot as there were cars in the entire parking lot.
a Jane Austin-esque picnic spot in Robinson Field along the Rideau river in Sandy Hill.
Guys and food: don’t waste that hummus.
A brand new garden at Glebe Memorial Park. The Glebites wanted pergolas and waist level boxes accessible for wheel chairs too. It looks all very pretty.
At every garden, someone was waiting for us. The guys are listening to local volunteer Myka in the Glebe garden.
Just like cycling, growing food can be done virtually everywhere.
The new splash pad in the Glebe Memorial Park was just as popular as the basil and tomatoes. 32 degrees (90F) in the shade was quite a challenge if there ain’t no shade. I think I drank two litres of water in four hours.

We visited about seven gardens, all tucked away and none of them very visible. The bike ride made for a very social experience with a wonderful mix of different people although I think half of the participants were younger women. I also got to places where I would never really go, like a fairly hidden park that I only knew from Google Earth.

If you get a chance to participate next year, don’t hesitate. It is no sweat, slow cycling (12 k/hr or so when we were actually moving), but the social part is just as much fun as the vegetable and flower observations. It was a bit hard to get info out of some of the volunteers, I would have liked to hear a bit more about how all these gardens come about, what the obstacles are, how a volunteer based group works (and not) etc. Also -but I was a bit late- an info snippet on Just Food as an organisation. (Update: info was given at the start). With 60 people, it is better to split in two groups as getting 60 people into action takes quite some time, not to mention the wait for traffic light cycles.

For the rest, I can’t wait until next year. Knowing myself how much time it takes to organise a seemingly simple event, I think the organisers, Tyler and Grace, did a great job. Time for a Twitter Hashtag though. What about #ottjustfood or #ottfood, as in #ottbike and #ottwalk?

1 Comment

  1. Hi Hans, this is Tyler, the organizer of the tour. Thank you very much for writing this blog and for taking so many great pictures! I’m really glad you enjoyed the tour, and I appreciate your constructive feedback.
    The Community Gardening Network (CGN) Coordinator of Just Food– Terri O’Neill– spoke at the beginning of the tour about Just Food and the work of the CGN. If you’d like to know more about this, since you missed the introduction at the event, you can check out Just Food’s website here:
    I like the idea of splitting up the group for next year– it was certainly a challenge to keep 60 people together in one group.
    We’ll also be posting more pictures of the tour on the Just Food website in the coming days.
    Dank u vel!

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