Most run the other way when a duo with pamphlets knock on their doors. Madeleine Maltby and Matthew Mason-Phillip went door to door for a while, asking Ottawa residents if they could borrow their backyards to grow organic produce. Now, they say the people of Ottawa are mostly coming after them.
The business they run is called Backyard Edibles. It’s an operation in urban farming where the pair borrows plots of land in backyards of Westend Ottawa. In exchange for the growing space, the homeowners receive a share of the produce grown each week during the season. The rest of it gets sold to restaurants, at farmers markets, the Herb & Spice Shop, and Rainbow Foods.
Maltby and Mason-Philip describe this method of farming as “hyper-local.” It’s about growing food in the same community that consumes it. Obvious benefits are cutting down on transportation emissions, greater food security in communities, and saving on the overhead cost of purchasing land to grow on. They say what’s more important is getting the community involved in how food is grown, and embedding sustainable growing methods into the neighbourhood. Homeowners, and even people who buy Backyard Edibles’ produce at the farmers markets, can observe what’s being grown in the backyards of their neighbourhoods and anticipate it arriving at their table. Maltby and Mason-Philip say it fosters a community connection.
While their operation is expanding to include more backyards each season, the owners have tried to keep most of their plots concentrated in Westend. Even so, Mason-Philip says they’re still sometimes sneaking into backyards after dark or before the sun is up to squeeze in one more watering, tiptoeing around the lawn to avoid tripping the overhead lights and waking up the homeowners.