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Image of Fruit TreeWho We Are

The journey to starting The Garden of Eating — Niagara is one marked by moments of awareness and inspiration, starting in 2000 when I was toiling away as a journalism school student in Saskatchewan. It was there, in the land of living skies, that I started to become acutely aware of the connection between farm and food on my plate. Until then, food came from a grocery store and fruit trees in the city were merely for decoration.

That year, farmers were leading tractor convoys on major highways in the province to draw attention to the cleverly named "Grain Drain." Farmers were walking away from their land because they simply could not make a living. Low prices, high costs, summers marked by drought and agricultural policies that were proving to be little help were too much for some to bear.

Fast forward three years and I'm toiling away in the newsroom of a small daily newspaper on Lake Erie's north shore. On the day of the 2003 blackout that knocked the power out in southern Ontario, I was standing in a cucumber field listening to farmers and representatives from the Pest Management Regulatory Agency talk about pesticides. That's when I learned there was a good chance much of the produce imported from South America and landing on grocery store shelves had been doused with DDT or other chemicals banned in Canada.

A few years and another newspaper later, I joined a CSA — Community Supported Agriculture — where each week, I got a share or basket of vegetables grown by a local farmer. It was my way of supporting a local grower and feeling good about what I was eating.

Then in 2007, I found myself embarking on the 100-Mile Diet, eating only what was grown within a 100-mile radius of where I lived. It wasn't exactly a success but it sure opened my eyes to all the local food we have here in Niagara, where I now call home.

My interest in local food and food issues has since led me to cross paths with some fascinating people and organizations doing great things on the local food front. It was earlier this year that I became inspired by one Toronto group, Not Far From The Tree, running a residential fruit-picking program. After that, I started reading about neighbourhoods throughout North America taking part in a truly local food movement, building stronger communities with every harvest and every bite.

Given that I'm living in the buckle of Ontario's fruit belt, I figured there's no reason why Niagara couldn't support a similar program. In fact, I've seen plenty of residential fruit trees ripe for the picking and just languishing.

Niagara isn't just in need of a residential fruit-picking program — it's begging for one. So, let's get picking — and sharing.

—Tiffany Mayer, founder

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