Gardening the margins – A letter from New Brunswick’s future #9

Written by Kylie Bergfalk on August 2, 2019

Gardening in the margins where humans and more-than-humans meet.
Photo by Kylie Bergfalk.

August 2, 2030 (Fredericton, NB)

Dear Friends,

It is 8:35 am on an unusually cool morning in early August 2030 and a small group of people gathers at the corner of George and Westmorland in Fredericton. We’re a mixed group: teenagers tote hoses and spades, a couple of children arrange races between fire hydrants, retirees in sensible shoes exchange notes on summer travel plans to New Brunswick’s provincial parks, and working-age folk trickle in too, the sort who ten years ago you’d expect to see facing computer screens in offices on a Friday morning. But, after the Premier instituted the 20-hour work week in 2024, the meaning of “work” has shifted and broadened in the province. Community spaces and services like our Friday morning gathering have become sites of intergenerational activity.

On mornings like this one, groups like ours gather in neighbourhood corners all over the city. People come together to observe, to care for, and to harvest from Fredericton’s “garden margins” which dot the city.

The people are cared for in return: the bees and the butterflies have been busy for hours already this morning. There will be songs, sweet peas, and strawberries warmed in the sun in the hours ahead.

It turns out a lot of edible and pollinator-friendly plants can be grown in the urban margins where once were only parking lots and on the edges of Fredericton’s sun-exposed curbs. Fredericton’s community gardens have changed radically in a decade. Instead of small plots tucked away in the almost abandoned spaces hidden between roads and suburban yards and the odd corners of a university campus, the community is the garden.

People have learned to participate in the urban ecosystem in ways that acknowledge and enrich the relationships between us and our non-human neighbours. The restoration is reciprocal, co-created, and jointly enjoyed.

The purples of the drought-tolerant hyssop and wild bergamot appeal to the eyes of both human and hummingbird. The blue vervain along the riverbanks and throughout much of the flood-prone downtown will be a source of winter food for the songbirds. Herbs freed from pots and kitchen gardens—basil and coriander, thyme and mint, sage and more—proliferate on every block to the delight of cooks and bumblebees alike. In places where the soil quality remains poor, black-eyed susans cheerfully flower through the summer months and clover and yellow cinquefoils provide ground cover and the promise of richer soil in years to come.

There are no lawns anywhere.

In Fredericton, in early-August, on a Friday morning the streets are a riot of colour—the garden margins are everywhere in bloom. It’s not quite an idyll, though. Environmental disaster is ever-present danger, and the shift away from carbon-intensive agricultural and the new dietary habits have been a bumpy transition forced on us by an urgent need to decarbonize.

It was all as much forced, as it was chosen.

Water and oil and food rationing in the mid-2020s made it seem insane for citizens and cities to maintain green grassy spaces in the usual way. At first, the loss of lawns was seen as a misfortune. One more of almost too many to bear in our unpredictable world riven by crisis and steeped in despair.

But, in Fredericton hope has found a place. It was the historic, all-women city council, in consultation with the Wəlastəkwi Elders, which implemented the city-wide program of gardening the margins to link ecological restoration projects with local food systems and citizens’ mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

Citizen brigades were organized to take on the labour of learning and restoring; and the labour of learning and restoring we did.

As Robin Wall Kimmerer wrote in her 2011 book Braiding Sweetgrass: “Restoration is a powerful antidote to despair. Restoration offers concrete means by which humans can once again enter into positive, creative relationship with the more-than-human world, meeting responsibilities that are simultaneously material and spiritual. It’s not enough to grieve. It’s not enough to just stop doing bad things.”

In 2030, in Fredericton, on this and many other mornings we are following the example of ecosystems around the world. We learning to manage uncertainty with diversity. When many species play their roles in an ecosystem, even when facing unpredictable conditions, there is more support for all.

The restoration is happening from the ground up, when the young and old and everyone in between human and non-human gather in downtown Fredericton. Just one moment among many.

Sincerely,

Kylie Bergfalk

Kylie Bergfalk is a writer who lives in Fredericton.

In the optimistic spirit of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Message from the Future, this letter is a speculative and fictional look back from the future to imagine what New Brunswick could be like if we could meet our climate change obligations. It is fiction, but it need not stay fiction. Each letter offers a vision of what New Brunswick could be like in the future if the province is able to fight climate change and to achieve the IPCC climate goals.

Read the other Letters from New Brunswick’s Future here.

This series is sponsored by RAVEN, and edited by Daniel Tubb and Abram Lutes. Daniel is an environmental anthropologist at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton and a co-investigator with RAVEN. Abram Lutes is an environmental action reporter with the RAVEN project Summer Institute and a member of the NB Media Co-op Board of Directors. If you would like to contribute your own letter, read the Call for Letters from New Brunswick’s Future and send a short outline of your idea to Daniel Tubb at dtubb@unb.ca and Abram Lutes at abram.lutes@gmail.com

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