The 100 Mile Diet
Excerpt from Changemakers by Fay Weller & Mary Wilson


Vicki tells the story of community gardens that weren’t functioning well when she arrived on Mayne Island:

I like to garden, and the circumstances of where I was at when I came over to the island didn’t allow me to do that. There was a space over at the community center, but it was very poorly set up.

The infrastructure was there, but there wasn’t any gardening happening because it had been left to be developed on an individual basis. You bought the wood and you brought in the soil, and then it was your little plot and you were responsible for your individual container. I think it had been going for a few years, and there were only seven people who had plots. Most of the ground was unused, and there were blackberry brambles all over the place, but someone loaned me one of the existing plots.

It was evident that someone had made an attempt to set up community gardens prior to Vicki’s arrival on the island. But why did the attempt not live up to the possibilities? Vicki proposed the following reason:

I was looking and thought, “Gee, there’s so much potential here, but this needs a group of people; it’s just not going to happen otherwise.” It’s daunting for people to do everything required to maintain their own small garden. It needs a whole different way

of managing it. People need to see themselves as contributing to the whole, not just to their plot. She then worked with others to restructure the management of the gardens and raised funds to make it work as a shared effort. The number of people using the garden jumped from seven to thirty-three.

Louis, another Mayne Island resident, believed that other reasons also contributed to the community garden finally working.

“So what made the time right for the gardens— what had an influence? That was just when the 100-mile diet came along, then that whole concept of food security and growing your own food. Before that nobody was doing as much gardening.” What Louis touches on is the extent to which influences from off the islands contribute to the dialogue on the islands. The 100 Mile Diet is a book written by a Vancouver couple, Alisa Smith and J.B. McKinnon, about their experience of eating only food grown within 100 miles of where they were living. National radio programs hosted discussions about The 100 Mile Diet, and the book was on the best seller list in Canada. In 2009 a television show called The Hundred Mile Challenge featured six couples attempting a diet consisting of food grown within 100 miles of their homes. People across the continent, including the Gulf Islands, became part of the discussion about global food systems and the value of eating locally grown food— the living net in action.

Brian, a fellow islander who had been involved in creating local-food community dinners around the same time The 100 Mile Diet was published, suggested that there are ways in which members of the community “can create the ‘time is right’ by advocates trying to get a critical mass going.” From his perspective it was the synergy of a range of factors, including the community dinners and the restructuring of the community gardens, lining up with The 100 Mile Diet, that created the increase in local food growing.

Potatoes in the rain

The Gabriola Commons is a 26-acre piece of land near Gabriola Island’s village core. It is owned, cared for, and stewarded by the community and is accessible to all island residents. The Commons constitution lists its three important purposes: “To hold, protect, and steward the property on Gabriola Island known as the ‘Gabriola Commons’ as a public amenity, with green spaces, hiking trails, and public exhibition, performance, and meeting
spaces for the use and enjoyment of the public in perpetuity; to preserve the ecological qualities of the Gabriola Commons; and to promote and demonstrate sustainable agricultural practices.” The property holds a multi-purpose community building, approximately 100 community garden plots, a Yurt that provides space for creative workshops and activities, a community kitchen, a Sustainability Centre, a home for the community bus, and a range of community programs.
Judith, one of the Common’s founders, describes a potato-harvesting work bee in the rain on the Gabriola Commons:
That’s what makes the heart just sing, working with people and half of them you don’t know, you’ve never worked together before— and everybody feels just so damn good. We had one Saturday harvesting the potatoes because Brian Minter [a local gardening expert] had said this is going to be a really difficult winter— you’ve got to get those potatoes out of the ground or….
So we called for the work bee, and it was raining and it was miserable. And a lot of people came to that one, 10 or 12 people out in the kitchen garden taking potatoes, and it was yucky, but it was fabulous, and you just could almost have heard the singing and the music coming from this. It was great.


A final reflection on food

We began with food because it is something that we choose daily, something that everyone chooses, and therefore something that is always available for us to question and to learn from. We might find the learning in a sudden revelation: Anna’s egg reveals that food safety is perhaps not as straightforward as we thought. The learning might come from seeing an example: potatoes in the mud can be a joyful opportunity for building community, not just an encounter with, well, mud! The learning might come through compassion: the farmer not only grows food for the farmer and food buyers but also for others, and in a way that shows kindness to the Earth. Revelation, example, and compassion— all are present in the food we eat or don’t eat.

When we look up from the specific stories and think about our broader experience of food, we find even more to think about.

For many people, learning about food means learning about family traditions. “My Mom did it this way, so I do too,” we imagine saying. But really, how many of us live that way now? We may instead be drawn to the traditions of our neighbors and friends rather than our own. (Mary is personally lukewarm on the idea of salt cod, a favorite of her mother’s, but drawn to her childhood Ukrainian neighbors’ egg noodles.) We may be more motivated by our concern for climate change and see every choice of an imported food as an opportunity to wield that sword. We may be motivated by our compassion to follow a vegan or vegetarian path.

We find, too, that there are gaps in our knowledge of food, and differences in the way we learn about it. We may swap gardening tips with a neighbor half our age instead of seeking wisdom within our own families— for many of us, the previous generation didn’t garden. We may be inspired by the many events in our lives to wonder with compassion…to find ways to explore ideas around food that are not attacks on what we have known or on the cherished traditions of others but rather attempts to explore and ask “what if” questions that may give rise to all kinds of learning.

Excerpt From Changemakers. Get it Here.