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Growing food with our dads — a Father’s Day feature

Growing food with our dads: a Father’s Day feature

by Liesje Doldersum
Liesje is a senior writer here at gardenstead, as well as an always-learning vegetable and flower gardener.

When I was a kid, my Dutch dad had us (my two brothers, my sister and myself) all working in our huge vegetable garden most days of our summer vacation. Not all day, mind, but it seemed to me that there was always too much weeding, watering, and more weeding, until eventually (hallelujah) it was harvest time, at last.

I remember feeling both annoyed and proud during harvest season, particularly when it came time to shell endless peas, and — inexplicably at the time — cut green beans into small pieces to freeze in ziploc bags. (This makes sense to me now, but it sure seemed like extra work then.) I guess I was annoyed because it felt like far too much work to do on a late summer evening when you’d rather be reading in a hammock. But I remember clearly a feeling of pride, too, because I’d help to grow such a — as mentioned — seemingly endless bounty of beautiful food. 

Anyway, all of this is to say that I felt a connection to the focus of our latest video story — which features farming intern Austin Michel, who has fond memories of learning how to grow food with his dad and his grandfather. 

Austin Michel - a third generation grower

Austin Michel is a former chef turned farming intern at Wheelbarrow Farm, a CSA farm near Uxbridge, Ontario. Austin shares his personal story with us — from summer vacations spent farming with his grandfather in BC, to learning how to make the most of a small garden space in a basement apartment in downtown Toronto with his father in his later childhood years.  

It felt familiar to listen to the clearly remembered happiness Austin shared of going into his father’s small backyard garden to check on the growth of their plants. As I listened to this memory from Austin’s youth, I was struck by a similarly warm memory, of my dad’s garden full of produce, planted in neat rows, carefully cared for by us — his small army of youngsters. Such food! Such satisfaction. 

Farming internship at Wheelbarrow Farm

We found Austin when we were speaking with vendors at the Evergreen Brickworks Farmer’s Market in Toronto this May. We weren’t intending to profile Austin. We’d actually gone to the market hoping to interest one of the farms in allowing us to create a video of their operation, to learn about progressive growing techniques. But as we chatted with Austin — as he tended Wheelbarrow Farm’s market stall — we learned his personal story. And we realized it would make for a good feature to honour Father’s Day. What splendid timing.

Growing food with our fathers

Austin shares this memory of growing food with his father, “One of the things that my father taught me is to respect the plant and to respect the whole earth around that plant.” Quite lovely, isn’t that? As I recall, my dad’s advice about vegetable gardening was a little more prosaic and had much to do with exercising patience — something that was not a specialty in my highly energetic youth. 

For all of us lucky enough to have dads who love to garden, either in the here and now or in our not-too-distant memories, Happy Father’s Day. We hope the day is a beautiful one. 

Thank you, Austin, for sharing your story. And thanks to my Dad, for giving me an appreciation for growing food that I might not have had were it not for those years in my youth pulling weeds from rows and rows (and rows) of vegetables — and then eating the fruits of my (actual) labour. What a gift.

More on Wheelbarrow Farm in July

Oh, and stay tuned in July for a second video featuring Austin. He’s going to take us on a tour of Wheelbarrow Farm, to share the progressive, earth and climate-friendly growing techniques the farm uses (as well as a bit about their solar-powered electric tractor, too). If you sign up for our newsletter, you’ll get a reminder to your inbox.

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