100-Mile Backyard Farming: Ripe for the picking

Down-home natural goodness is just outside the back door

By Laura Robin, The Ottawa Citizen June 29, 2011

Anne Janssen and Andrew Dumbrille work the gardens of Aylmer Backyard Farms — that’s right, in her back yard. Photograph by: Chris Mikula, The Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA — Anne Janssen lives with her husband in a two-storey red brick house with a two-car garage. Their home is on a treed street in the centre of the old part of Aylmer, just blocks from a trendy coffee shop and a Szechwan restaurant.

It’s definitely an urban area, but she’s a farmer. In her own backyard.

“I’ve always had a vegetable garden, and they kept getting bigger and bigger,” says Janssen, 46. “When we lived in Chelsea, I started selling to neighbours. Finally, last year, I made it official.”

Now she runs something she calls Aylmer Backyard Farms — or Les Paniers d’Aylmer. She gardens not only in her own backyard, but in a sunny space donated by a neighbour down the road. Volunteers help her, six of them regulars who work in exchange for fresh organic vegetables all summer long.

She grows about 40 different crops — so many vegetables and herbs that she sells her fresh produce Saturday mornings on the porch of a nearby bakery.

She’s part of a growing urban movement that has people cultivating their own backyards, borrowing other urban spaces and planting on other people’s properties – all to bring their food closer to home.

Why does Anne Janssen do it?

“I think it’s this idea of the beauty of food and connecting people to their food,” says Janssen, who used to work as an environmental activist. “I’ve idolized farmers for a long time. I’m not expecting to make money; I’d like to cover my costs. We are profitable in the sense that we’re eating incredibly well.”

Why do people volunteer to work with her?

“Like most people, we’re stuck in an office in front of computer most of the time,” says Armel Castellan, 33, who cycles from his Glebe apartment 15 kilometres each way to work in Janssen’s vegetable plots a day or two each week.

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