November 30, 2023

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Swing Your Furniture Bank

Why some homeowners are sharing their yards with gardeners and farmers

Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This weekly newsletter is part of a CBC News initiative entitled “Our Changing Planet” to show and explain the effects of climate change. Keep up with the latest news on our Climate and Environment page.

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This week:

  • Love gardening? Hate gardening? Either way, yard sharing could be the solution
  • Land conservation is essential in fighting global warming
  • How thrifting can help save the planet

Love gardening? Hate gardening? Either way, yard sharing could be the solution

(Asalah Youssef)

Some people hate mowing, pruning and landscaping their yard. Others love growing flowers or vegetables, but have no place to do so. Now, neighbours from both camps are being brought together through programs that promote yard or garden sharing — and advocates say it’s a win for everyone, including the environment.

In some cases, individual gardeners and landowners are paired up, as with Edmonton Yard Share and the Halifax Garden Network. In others, urban farms such as City Street Farms in Regina, Backyard Harvest in Hamilton and City Beet Farm in Vancouver are using people’s front and backyards to grow produce to feed people in the neighbourhood.

Rhonda Teitel-Payne is the co-ordinator of Toronto Urban Growers, a group that offers online resources such as how-to guides for people who want to participate in yard sharing.

She says there’s growing interest in the idea, given the shortage of gardening spaces in urban areas, where many people live in apartments without yards and there are long wait lists for community gardens.

Meanwhile, she says many homeowners aren’t using their entire yard, “and they would like to share it with someone who is going to put it to good use.”

She cautioned that garden sharing requires people to put the time and effort into their mutual expectations for a garden — for example, how the homeowner’s family and pets will use the yard or how often the gardener will visit and with how many people. 

The Toronto Urban Growers’ garden sharing toolkit, for example, suggests things that should be discussed and agreed upon in writing, such as whether the landholder and gardener will communicate by phone, email or another method; how pests will be dealt with; how conflicts will be resolved; and how costs and the harvest will be shared. Toronto Urban Growers suggests that the landholder receive at least a small portion of the harvest as a thank you for offering the space, and more if the costs and work are also being shared.

Growing fruits, vegetables and flowers benefits not just people, but bees, birds and other wildlife. Plants also help absorb excess rainwater from storms, reducing the risk of flooding compared to grass lawns or yards that are turned into tiled, paved or wood patios.

Liana Glass, co-owner of City Beet Farm, says many of the people whose yards she farms on would otherwise have to pay landscapers or gardening companies or maintain the space themselves.

“It’s a cool thing that we can take these underused spaces — most people hardly even walk on their lawns — and turn them into something really productive and beautiful.”

City Beet Farms grows vegetables ranging from spinach and bok choy to tomatoes, squash and potatoes on 13 yards in Vancouver’s Riley Park, Mount Pleasant and Southlands neighbourhoods, which total just a fifth of a hectare. The food goes to 85 households that have subscribed to a weekly delivery of produce from the farms; those who donate their yards, meanwhile, get a 50 per cent discount.

The farm also provides vegetables for a local community food hub that helps feed hungry seniors and families.

Teitel-Payne said she’s also really excited to see that people are backing businesses like City Beet Farm across the country.

“That is part of creating a healthier food system,” she said. “If you’re concerned about climate change and you really want to see food localized, growing [it] in people’s residential spaces is one way to do it.”

— Emily Chung

Reader feedback

After Emily Chung’s article on electric vehicle rentals last week, a few readers wrote in to point out that there’s another car-sharing option in B.C. that has EVs. 

Car-sharing co-operative Modo has 25 EVs out of a fleet of more than 700 vehicles. They include Hyundai Konas, Kia Souls and two Hyundai Nexo hydrogen-electric fuel cell vehicles. The EVs are spread out across Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna, said Jane Hope, Modo’s director of marketing and communications, who added, “Our goal is to be emissions-free by 2030.”

We’ve published a few pieces recently about electric vehicles, including on the challenges of taking them on longer journeys and efforts to recycle their batteries.

Kate Walker wrote in with this comment:

“I heard Brent Toderian (former City of Vancouver planner) on CBC recently addressing the issue of replacing gas-powered vehicles with electric ones. One of his points was that our goal should not be to replace all gas-powered vehicles with electric ones. Instead, we should be aiming to eliminate a huge percentage of private cars with some electric vehicles and build more trains and electric buses.

“Imagine what our cities and towns would look like without 50 to 75 per cent of the cars?”

Old issues of What on Earth? are right here.

***NEW*** CBC News recently launched a dedicated climate page, which can be found here.

There’s also a radio show and podcast! Chloe Tse wants her bank — the Royal Bank of Canada, which has invested heavily in fossil fuel projects — to stop promising it will be net zero by 2050. She’s part of an official complaint about false advertising, which RBC denies. Tse is also part of a growing global movement challenging companies to meet their stated climate goals. What On Earth now airs on Sunday at 11 a.m. ET, 11:30 a.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador. Subscribe on your favourite podcast app or hear it on demand at CBC Listen.

The Big Picture: Land protection

As we all know, the problem of climate change doesn’t have one solution — keeping global warming at a level that minimizes the danger to life on Earth will require a variety of measures, some more complex than others. One underappreciated fix is conservation — namely, purchasing tracts of land in order to protect them from development. The Canadian government has set a target of protecting 25 per cent of our land and water by 2025.

Not only does this ensure that species living there have a healthy, functioning ecosystem, but many of these areas also play a key role in carbon sequestration. “The more you destroy land, the worse the climate effects are,” said Andrew Day, the president of the B.C. Parks Foundation. To wit, a recent $14.5-million donation from Montreal entrepreneur Dax Dasilva has helped B.C. Parks Foundation protect the French Creek Estuary, a migrating ground for thousands of eagles on eastern Vancouver Island, as well as the Upper Pitt River watershed, northeast of Vancouver. The endowment will help protect 300 hectares of land.

While conservation has long been a cause for eco-minded millionaires, such efforts needn’t rely solely on one person’s largesse. In the case of the French Creek Estuary/Upper Pitt River project, $500,000 came from a crowd-funding campaign. Similarly, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has raised money from donors big and small. Last week, the NCC announced plans to create the Boreal Wildlands Project in northern Ontario (photo below), which would be the largest single private conservation project in the country. The NCC is planning to buy the 1,500-square-kilometre parcel of land from paper company Domtar for $7 million below its market value, using funds raised from donors, with some money kicked in from the federal and provincial governments.

(The Canadian Press/Nature Conservancy of Canada)

Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web

How thrifting can help save the planet

(Jaison Empson/CBC)

Growing up in Ghana, Joshua Akom relied on second-hand clothing. Now, living in Canada, the entrepreneur says thrift shopping makes not only economic but environmental sense. 

In 2016, he met Oghosa Ogiemwonyi. When the pandemic shut down thrift stores, the two saw an opportunity. They founded Thriftsome, an online thrift store based in Winnipeg that allows Canadians to make more sustainable fashion choices. 

“If you buy second-hand clothing, you are not only saving on cost, you are also extending the life of the planet,” said Akom. 

With the chemicals, large water supply needed for production and the piles of clothing that wind up in landfills, fashion is one of the worst industries for the planet. According to the United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, it’s estimated the clothing and textiles industry is responsible for between two and eight per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions — more than international flights and global shipping combined.

But a number of Canadian companies are trying to slow down the process with concepts like online thrifting and developing sustainable materials. They’re part of a growing global ethical fashion trend, as more consumers seek to shop conscientiously. 

“I think what drives me the most is just the fact that I love fashion,” said Ogiemwonyi (photo above). “Secondly, I want to have kids someday and I know with the rates that fast fashion is growing, it’s scary to think about what will happen in the future.” 

It’s called “fast fashion” because it’s not designed to last long. Its lesser quality keeps the cost low, allowing people to purchase more; that also ensures it’s faster in getting to landfills. 

It’s estimated that every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is added to a landfill or burned, according to the United Nations Environment Program

The industry isn’t just impacting the land, but the planet’s water supply as well. According to the United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, textiles account for about nine per cent of annual microplastic losses to the oceans. The United Nations Environment Program also says it takes about 7,500 litres of water to produce just one pair of jeans. 

“The whole idea of fast fashion is to get it quick and get rid of it quickly. And so if you buy second-hand clothing, you are slowing down the process of [it] ending up in a landfill,” said Akom.

Without a storefront, and still working to gain traction with shoppers, Thriftsome’s clothes are stored at Ogiemwonyi’s apartment. But Akom is optimistic their business will grow, and he’s also trying to tackle the stigma around second-hand clothing, showing that it can be fashionable and sustainable — not just a last-chance option. 

“We are hopeful because this generation cares so much about the planet … and we hope that they will put their money where their heart is,” said Akom.

Kelly Drennan, the executive director of Fashion Takes Action, a non-profit organization focused on sustainability, says there are ways to mitigate the environmental issues within our current closets. 

“We wear 20 per cent of our wardrobe 80 per cent of the time. So basically, 80 per cent of our wardrobe is just sitting there not getting worn,” said Drennan.

Based in Toronto, Drennan encourages people to shop their own closet before heading online or to retail stores. “If you feel like you really are lacking something in your wardrobe, chances are it’s already in there.”

Drennan preaches the seven Rs of fashion sustainability: along with reduce, reuse and recycle, there’s repurpose, repair, rent, resell, and then recycle again, once the clothing has exhausted its lifespan.

It’s a philosophy her organization promotes to students as part of youth education programs they deliver in schools. 

“We really wanted to play the long game when it came to systems change and behaviour change,” said Drennan. 

“And we thought, OK, if we could get young people as young as eight years old up to 17 to really connect with fashion and how it impacts the planet and the people who make our clothes, then longer term, we actually might see some of those changes.”

Laura Clementson and Steven D’Souza

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Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNalty