Toronto Star column – published July 12, 2014
While on a recent trip to British Columbia I happened to walk into a gas station to pay for some gas when I was accosted by a large illuminated sign that read, ‘Bread Garden’. What? A refrigerator featured premade sandwiches, wrapped in cello, stamped with long range best-before dates. The presentation was as underwhelming as that of any other gas station offering lunch fare. There was nothing offensive about it except for the liberal use of the word ‘garden’. I walked out of there with gas all right.
While I am on the stump I would like to lodge a complaint about the similar use of the ‘g’ word where enclosed ice arenas are concerned. Maple Leaf Gardens, the TD Garden in Boston, and, of course, Madison Square Gardens in New York are perfect illustrations of how badly misused the word garden has become. This is not a new thought as my late father used to lament out loud this very complaint. But then, he was the guy who used to say that a house without a shade tree was the sign of an empty soul. Sounds a bit harsh but the older I get the more I am inclined to agree with him.
It is instructive to note that the word ‘paradise’ was originally derived from the ancient Persian word ‘pairida?za which was used to describe none other than a park of royal proportions where gardens would be kept and tended. If Maple Leaf Gardens is someone’s idea of paradise, I hope I never go there. Though I have a son-in-law who loves cheese so much that he visits the cheese counter at the new Loblaws on Carlton just to imagine what paradise would be like. That, of course, is another matter.
This is early July, which means that summer is here in earnest and we had better slow down the work activity in the garden just a bit or it will be late summer before you know it and all of the bare patches in the lawn will need to be fixed and the peonies divided and there will be no excuse for lounging in the hammock.
This is hammock time.
I have enjoyed my share of lounging around lately and I have some deep and meaningful thoughts that I wish to share. For one, what are all of those municipal candidates doing this time of year? There is an election coming up this fall and they should be on their stump expounding on the future of our great city when it is finally in their capable hands. I have some questions for each one of them, councillors and mayoralty candidates alike.
Secondly, what are they going to do to help double the urban tree canopy in their city? This question applies as equally to Pickering, Markham, and Mississauga as it does to Toronto. I may not live in Beeton but their trees clean my air and vice versa. We’re all in this together, Red Green liked to remind us. While he liked to keep his stick on the ice, we all need to keep our spades in the ground, especially if it means that we are up one more tree or shrub. Doubling the tree canopy is absolutely critical to the future of our urban-dwelling grandchildren. It will only happen one tree at a time and it will take about 40 years before the tree that is planted today sequesters a measurable amount of carbon. This is a long range project that requires planning and foresight.
There is a tendency for candidates to suggest that all of the answers are in the hands of government. They often like to say that by some miracle of economics there will be money from heaven to pay for the growing, planting and nurturing of our future tree canopy. One candidate for Toronto’s top job has suggested that there will be a new tax on businesses to pay for the new trees. I am sure that every business person in the city is pleased to hear that. Perhaps the same candidate has a plan to deliver clean air to business people on an exclusive basis.
I have another idea: let’s collaborate. When we bring together existing not-for-profit tree organisations with thoughtful, committed ‘green’ businesses [and TD is one of them, so I am not dishing on their Boston garden], citizens who WANT to volunteer to help green up our city, and three layers of government who are also committed to doing the right thing for our future environment, we THEN have resources that will make a difference, fast. What is the problem with this concept? There is only one problem and that is the ‘silo’ mentality of players who would rather play alone with their own ball than be a part of a community of players who are playing on the street with a ball that no one really cares who it belongs to.
Trees For Life, the urban tree coalition, is an organisation that is designed to take full advantage of a collaborative effort among all of the players. Trees For Life does not want the credit for bringing them together, they are like the den mother who just wants to see the kids talking and getting along.
Trees For Life is a new organisation but they have already done some great work. Just this spring they assisted in ‘10,000 Trees For the Rouge,’ the Adopt-a-Park-Tree program with LEAF and Park People. And beyond that, they are working with several agencies and individuals to create a tree-plan for the Toronto waterfront, including Fort York and the reforestation of the Jane/Finch corridor [can you imagine?]. I would like to hear a candidate say, “I want to meet these people. We could do good work together!” For details go to http://treesforlifecanada.org.
Speaking of candidates for municipal election, I would like to ask all of them this, “How will you support efforts to help hungry people feed themselves by providing access to community gardens?” This is not a fly-by-night scheme as it is working in other cities, including good old, stressed out Detroit. From the desperate need of one community [Detroit] springs new ideas, energy and commitment to imagine new solutions that we can learn from here in wealthy, prosperous Toronto [relatively speaking]. Go to http://recoverypark.org/.
Will the newly elected government support grass roots efforts like ‘Not Far From the Tree’ to help collect food that ripens on private, urban trees for distribution to hungry people? A pear tree on your street no doubt drops its fruit and rots before anyone gets their hands on them. Go to http://notfarfromthetree.org/ for details.
For other ideas about how we can feed ourselves through community-based urban farming schemes and support of local small farmers, I suggest that you have a visit to the Evergreen Brick Works weekend farmers’ market. There is a smorgasbord of small growers and not for profit organizations there waiting to fill you in on the latest ideas designed to help make urban dwellers healthier. Rich and poor, better and worse.
I suggest that you get there early in the morning to get a parking spot. Then you can leave early too. Spend the afternoon hanging out in your hammock doing some dreaming of your own. Tis the season.