The picture includes the Mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson, MPP Marie-France Lalonde, Beau's Executive Director and operations staff Bullfrog key staff, National Capital Commission ED, Moe Garahan, Executive Director of Just Food and Chair of Just Food.
Twelve kilometres east of Parliament Hill, the Just Food Farm grows a dazzling mix of organic fruits and vegetables including carrots, brussel sprouts and watermelon.
Executive director Moe Garahan tells me the 150-acre agricultural operation forms part of the National Capital Commission's Greenbelt yet it's squarely within Ottawa city limits. "We have a 25-year lease on one of the NCC's farm properties," she says, and it's a farm accessible by public transit. "You can take a city bus there: the O-C Transpo number 94."
Just Food is intriguing not only for its status as a rural-urban hybrid. It also boasts an unusual electricity source: a 10-kilowatt photovoltaic array launched in October 2017 with the financial assistance of Bullfrog Power and Beau's Brewery. The PV panels power a cooler and greenhouse — where the group will attempt year-round growing — and a circa-1920s barn that serves as an education centre.
"The whole farm is about education," Garahan tells me. She says elementary and high school students, along with corporate groups, tour the facility throughout the growing season, learning about agriculture and solar energy's inner workings. Last year, as part of Canada 150 celebrations, youth from across the country visited the property to witness the solar array's construction.
As befits its name, the farm is a hub for social action. It donates some of its crop to Gloucester Emergency Food Cupboard, a local charity that provides families in crisis with a four-day food supply. Sadly, people in this situation are often given sub-standard provisions; here they can receive high-quality organic produce. Just Food houses a program called FarmWorks that teaches street-involved youngsters how to grow vegetables and develop other skills that can help them find employment. The farm provides space for Karen refugees who came to Ottawa after surviving war in Burma. In a sensitively written post, the organization's website says the land offers these people, "who have endured years of displacement, a place of comfort and sense of home, as well as a place to practice and adapt their farming skills."
The project benefits from solar energy's affordability. "We expect over time the solar installation will save us money," Garahan says. "Operational funds are hard to come by, so solar, which is in abundance, helps facilitate all our work."
George Wright concurs. He grows oats at Castor River Farm, an Ottawa-area operation powered by wind and a three-kilowatt solar installation. "The price of solar panels has come down 10-fold," he explains. "Renewables are a form of insurance; they carry us through the lows. During bad growing seasons we have no hydro bill." If one needed another reason to embrace these energy sources, this is it: they can improve the economic security of the folks who grow our food.
W.H. Auden began his great poem, Law, Like Love with the words, "Law, say the gardeners, is the sun." He meant, perhaps, that all the Earth's bounty is ultimately attributable to the grand fireball in the sky. At Just Food Farm, with its new solar array, the sun brings forth more than vegetables and fruit. It energizes a powerful experiment in social justice.
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