John Murtaugh

My Place

I live near downtown Toronto in the Victorian-era neighbourhood of Cabbagetown, named after the practice of early Irish immigrants who planted cabbages in their front yards. My front yard now is filled with whatever wildflowers and ground covers wish to grow. Inspired by my youthful introduction to agricultural development work as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tonga and my continuing interest in home grown vegetables and the idea of urban agriculture, I have long had quite a productive organic backyard and roof top gardens, producing cabbages and leafy greens, beans, tomatoes and other edibles. My son Tim continues the family tradition with his rooftop special plants now allowed by the Canadian government.

My Passion with Food

I especially enjoy the self-seeded edible plants and leafy greens that come up everywhere each year as thick as weeds. I am an avid composter, using all my kitchen scraps, fall leaves and plant residue produced on my small bit of land. I am especially enamored with the idea of harvesting edible wild plants, inspired by Euell Gibbons 1970’s book Stalking the Wild Asparagus. My favourite is lamb’s quarters, also called fat hen (chenopodium album), great raw in salads and cooked boiled or in stir fries.

My Perspective on Food Sovereignty

Food sovereignty for me is a worthy aspirational goal that seeks to provide food security, sufficient, even abundant, culturally relevant nutritional food for all, produced in ecologically sound and sustainable ways respecting the rights of consumers, farmers and their workers to define their own food and agricultural systems consistent with social justice. I am interested in the many paradoxes inherent in this concept and the very important and necessary policy implications to achieve this sovereignty, especially now with our absolute need to take effective action to slow global warming and at the same time, provide food security for the world’s growing population.

Sovereignty at what scale: local, 100 mile, watershed-wide, state or provincial, regional, national? Is there room for some form of capitalism and corporate food production and large scale family farming in a food sovereign world? Can the many small and medium farmers in the third world continue to improve their incomes through participating in the export market? Should Canada continue with large scale farm commodity and meat exports? How are decisions around sovereignty to be decided and regulated, and by what political entity? How does international trade, free or regulated, fit into the needed changes for sovereignty and the need to limit global warming? We must act now, but how fast can changes be agreed to, enacted and enforced?

My Participation in the Legacies Project

The Legacies project can help bring these questions and issues to the fore for anyone concerned with our future well-being. My connection to the project goes back a long way to when my late wife Elizabeth first met Dianne, whose farm is located near our family cottage in the Muskoka region north of Toronto. We enjoyed her vegetables, naturally- raised meat and eggs as well as her visits for lakeside barbeques. We volunteered a bit with planting and weeding, and helped her find outlets for her produce in Toronto. Our most significant contribution to the farm and project, is our daughter Anna who worked for several summers on the farm and met her husband Adam there. Dianne remains a great friend and I was pleased to introduce Deborah to her. Both of them were very interested in each other’s work which ultimately led to the beginning of this project exploring the legacies of Diane’s farm and the connections to the issue of food sovereignty.