“Julia had land and I didn’t, but I have a passion for growing things,” Sutherland explained. They thought they would work together to grow vegetables, but like true revolutionaries they cranked up a tiny propaganda machine in the form of a simple flyer they distributed to their neighbours, recruiting more than a dozen to the cause.
“We made up a very simple leaflet and handed them out on [Hilton’s] street and my street,” Sutherland said.
Thirteen people came to the first meeting, intrigued by the idea of eating local by growing their own food. The Two-Block Diet was born.
They started a sprouting station to grow tomatoes from seed and then built a greenhouse to protect the seedlings; then came the communal compost. From there, they began to organize weekend work parties to convert unused backyard space into gardens.
“Not having a community garden, we help each other grow food on our own plots,” she said. “Eight of us will show up in one back yard for kind of a barn-raising.”
Many of the neighbourhood’s backyards were entirely transformed in the process.
“We were having work parties about every two weeks at somebody’s home while we were establishing gardens,” Sutherland said.
Buoyed by the success of their first harvest, some Two-Blockers are now keeping laying hens. The arrival of bee hives this year has the neighbourhood salivating for the season’s honey harvest.
As food production ramps up, the group has started to preserve its bounty.
“We applied for a small grant and bought a pressure canner,” Sutherland said. “We brought in peaches and used the local honey when we canned the peaches.”
In less than two years, Hilton and Sutherland’s Two-Block Diet group has evolved from potlucks and planning sessions into a self-sustaining urban village in the Riley Park-Little Mountain area, where sharing labour and food are the natural way of things.
Now that the need for transformative work parties has diminished, the group mostly gathers to order seeds and plan their gardens and, at harvest time, to preserve.
“People are growing two to three times what they were two years ago,” Sutherland said. “But for me the real payoff is in the sense of community.
“I lived on this block for 12 years and had never been inside most of my neighbours’ homes; now I have been in all of the members’ homes,” she said.
When a gardener’s husband fell ill, the Two-Blockers organized a meals-on-wheels program, taking turns bringing fresh meals to the couple while he convalesced.
Eager to spread the revolution, Hilton and Sutherland have created amanual for people who want to start a group in their own neighbourhood, condensing their two-year experience into a two-page tip sheet. You can even ask a member of their group to attend your first meeting as a resource.
Click here to read the manual
Click here to read Randy Shore’s blog, The Green Man
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