by Learning Lead Joanne Cerdan

The price of groceries for Torontonians has increased by 17% from last year. Food categories with the most significant cost increase include dark green vegetables (17.3%) and other vegetables and fruit (15.2%). The average person in Toronto will spend about $302.35 on groceries per month (City of Toronto, 2021). One of the factors for rising food prices is climate change. According to Canada’s Food Price Report published by Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph, “Canadian food systems will be affected by changing weather patterns including droughts and forest fires, heavy precipitation, reduced freshwater access and rising sea levels. Climate models suggest that Canada’s agricultural regions will subsequently feel the impacts of a drier summer season and increased spring and winter precipitation” (2020). 

The reality for me is that rent and groceries account for about 60% of my monthly income. I gave up my plant-based lifestyle because, truthfully, it was getting costly. I now stick to eating the same meals daily. While I’m grateful that I can eat every day without worry, I miss the Filipinx dishes I grew up with, rich with a variety of vegetables.

The goals for my 3-part series blog are:

  • Spend time connecting with nature and family members.
  • Grow my produce in my parent’s small backyard garden with as little cost as possible and reusing as many materials as possible.
  • Get in touch with my roots and satisfy my cravings by cooking a cultural plant-based Filipinx dish.
Me cleaning the planters. Photo taken by my dad, Joey Cerdan.

Like Danielle, family is so important to me. Though sometimes, we get so caught up with work. My parents love gardening, and I was hoping to take this project to learn gardening skills from my parents and to spend more time with my family. From late April to late May, we spent a couple of weeks cleaning the backyard. We took out the dead plants and weeds and got our planters and containers ready by aerating the soil.

We decided to use planters and containers because my dog Miles loves to dig up the dirt and grass. We also reused old buckets from past renovation projects and storage containers that we’ve had for over 15 years. 

Tomato seeds and seeds from a bitter gourd collected from last year’s harvest. Photo taken by me.

Next, we needed to figure out what we wanted to grow. We use a lot of tomatoes, eggplant, bok choy green chillies and gourds in Filipinx dishes. We also wanted to try growing sweet potato stems to use the leaves for cooking. Our goal was to spend as little cost as possible.

Some of the seeds (tomatoes, chillies, bitter gourds) were from last year’s produce, which we dried and saved in a napkin. Other seeds came in packets and were gifted to us. We poked holes in red solo cups that we saved from a house party and planted the seeds, then sprayed with water daily. Once they grew, we moved them to the reused planters and storage containers. We purchased okra, eggplant, gourds, and some tomato plants just in case the seeds don’t grow.

Sprouting sweet potato stems. Photo taken by me.

For the sweet potato stems, my brother bought sweet potato stems from an Asian grocery. We put them in a jar with water, and they sprouted!

We then planted them in planter boxes. Since the bitter gourds are climbers, my partner, dad, and I built a structure to support its growth. Luckily, we had spare wood in the garage! We reused old bits of fencing and metal as a trellis.

Me, my partner, and my dad building the structure for the bitter gourd. Photo taken by my mom, Annabelle Cerdan.

We planted the bitter melons in planter boxes (we repurposed Miles’ dog house that he doesn’t use).

To maximize space, we also created water bottle planters to hang on our fence to grow the bok choy.

We collected the water bottles from past outdoor parties. Over 80% of plastic water bottles end up in our landfill, yikes! (Humber College, Office of Sustainability). The same hanging planters can be done with glass mason jars. In this case, we thought we could repurpose the water bottles.

Me planting bitter gourd/melon in the planter boxes that were once a dog house. Photo taken by my partner, Tenzin.

The result of this first phase of our small gardening project was having plants growing all around the perimeter of the backyard. The next blog will highlight the progress of the vegetables! Hopefully, they survive the extreme weather fluctuation we’ve been having. 

For those in the Toronto area who are also interested in gardening, Toronto does have allotment gardens available at various locations across the city for a small fee. Applications to get on a waitlist open in February.  Here is more information about community gardens in Toronto and how to start your own community garden.

Other gardening projects from Learning Leads located outside Ontario will be posted on the Waterlution: The Cautious Optimist Project!

Hanging water bottle planters. Photo was taken by my dad.

Joanne Cerdan (she/her) is a Student Affairs practitioner residing in Toronto and is also a Master’s of Higher Education student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. She is a childhood friend of Danielle Moore and often reminisces about the camping and fun adventure trips they used to have. Like Danielle, Joanne enjoys spending time outdoors connecting with nature and believes in advancing equity and sustainability through education.