Whether it’s the sight of city folk pulling weeds or mixing compost, harvesting juicy berries or plump tomatoes, or just caring for green grass without chemicals, one thing is certain: urban agriculture is booming!
One example of a longtime urban program — 25 years strong! — is Vancouver’s City Farmer, otherwise known as “Canada’s Office of Urban Agriculture,” where Spring Gillard is lucky enough to have the job title ‘Compost Hotline Operator.’ With City Farmer’s encouragement and help — much of it from the Compost Hotline — more than 45% of the people in Vancouver are growing some of their own food. Luckily for the rest of the world, in the 1990s the City Farmer workers had the good sense to spread their gospel to the Internet. Apparently, it has filled quite a need: in 2002, the City Farmer web site received more than four million hits from people bitten by the urban agriculture bug.
In DIARY OF A COMPOST HOTLINE OPERATOR: Edible Essays on City Farming (New Society Publishers, October 2003), Gillard gives readers a taste of the sweet life at City Farmer, weaving together essential gardening facts and tips, charming stories about quirky urban gardeners, and a healthy heaping of good humor. A former advertising writer with a flair for words, Gillard stumbled into City Farmer’s plot one day in 1991, got a job, and never left. She spends her days providing well-researched answers to callers on the Compost Hotline at City Farmer, cooking up new projects, and publicizing the successes and joys of sustainable city farming and gardening. Gillard celebrates the joys and laments the minor tragedies of gardening, addressing the real concerns people have in trying to raise more of their own food and also cutting to the heart of why urban dwellers want to garden/farm in the first place: it provides a connection to the land, tangible measures of success, and an opportunity to find community, friendship, and even love.
As editor of Compost Hotline News, Spring Gillard does widespread research into urban agriculture worldwide, and her witty diary entries have been published widely. An avid storyteller, Gillard believes in the power of humor to convey serious messages.