Change your world one carrot at a time


Back in 1912, it was illegal to buy locally grown carrots in Calgary. Instead, vegetables had to be imported from British Columbia, and they often arrived mouldy.

Annie Gale, a then 35-year-old immigrant took it upon herself to rebel against mouldy carrots. Eventually she became Calgary’s first female alderman, later helping to change the law so we could all buy local food.

By 1914, she also helped start the Vacant Lots Garden Club so every new immigrant had access to land to grow his or her own food. One could say Gale helped change her world one carrot at a time.

The City of Calgary dissolved the Vacant Lots Garden Club in 1952. Yet the Bridgeland Vacant Lot Club members apparently didn’t get the memo and kept on gardening. The empty lots they used eventually changed hands from private landowners to the City and are now part of a historic site.

Today, the tradition continues to live on throughout the city.

Mike Ricketts, who lives in an apartment across from the city’s last Vacant Lot garden, recently emailed me a picture of his impressive Nov. 21, 2015, root crop harvest, including carrots.

In Wildwood, Chelsie Anderson, didn’t have room for everything she wanted to grow in her rental backyard. So she talked with owners of a vacant house across the street and set up a water barrel and a straw-bale garden to grow vegetables.

And Audrey Smith already had her own backyard garden before she negotiated a micro-community garden with the owners of the rental property next door.

More than a century after Calgarians were first allowed to buy locally grown food, gardeners such as Ricketts, Anderson and Smith will be eating carrots from their yards this holiday season.

Interestingly, it is still illegal to set up an urban farm within city limits. Edmonton passed its urban agriculture bylaw this fall, “allow[ing] for more urban agriculture and local food production activities across the city starting in February 2016.” If Gale was still here, would she be pushing for the same bylaw in Calgary?

Whether through citywide initiatives or solitary efforts, the local food growing movement is emerging. Like Gale, can we too change our world one carrot at a time?

Donna Balzer is a garden writer and entertaining speaker. Sign up for her blog feeds at or follow her on Twitter @NoGuffGardener. Also, don’t miss Balzer at the CREB®-sponsored talk, titled No Guff Vegetable Gardening, at the Calgary Home and Garden Show Feb. 26-28.