Meet Ryan Lawson from Burlington, Ontario, Canada

“I’m a young market gardener turning a passion into a business. This is my first year growing for market. I have been gardening at home for the last five years and making this jump into market gardening has been a dream. Working with Backed By Bees, we produce vegetables, honey, and alcohol for the people around us.

I got inspired to grow food through working with my grandfather in his garden. He mainly grows flowers but my favourite part was always helping with his tomatoes. I remember being a little kid and picking zucchini with him – absolutely loving it. This led to a love of plants and then specifically plants that we can eat.

I grow food because I love the feeling of providing people with healthy food. I’m from a city where people are generally detached from what real food is – from what real vegetables are. I want to reconnect people to where their food comes from. Food doesn’t need to travel thousands of miles before you eat it. Food doesn’t need to be sprayed with chemicals before you eat it. At Backed By Bees I fill orders from Thursday to Sunday every week. I always pick the vegetables people order, the morning they receive them. I want to make the freshest, most high-quality vegetables available to the people around me. I hope that taste reconnects them to how our food should be.

I am currently growing on a plot made up of eight raised beds, each 2.5 feet wide and 90 feet long. The crops I’m growing depends on the season. In total this year I will have grown about 20 different crops. In spring cold hardy vegetables like kale, beets, and lettuce begin. As summer comes into full heat the tomatoes, eggplant, and beans take off. Then as fall approaches brussels sprouts, radish, and greens finish off the year.

I approach soil and pest management with respect for nature. I practice no-till gardening as it has less of an impact on the soil. Soil is a living network of microorganisms, insects, and more. This needs to be considered when working in the garden. My main source of fertility at the market garden is compost. In the fall I lay a 2 inch layer of compost down and this provides me with most of the nutrients that I need. Crops that are heavy feeders, such as tomatoes, I provide additional nutrients in the form of chicken manure. Synthetic inputs never enter my garden.

I deal with insect pests mainly through physical barriers such as row cover. For crops that can’t be covered, such as cucumbers, I simply anticipate that insect damage will occur. This means practicing succession planting to ensure that I always have healthy, new plants developing.

Whenever possible I try to source my seeds from Canadian suppliers. West Coast Seeds and William Dam Seeds are my main suppliers. If necessary I use Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

When gardening at home I save seeds, especially for crops where it is easy such as garlic and beans. I originally received the garlic I have been growing the past couple of years from a neighbour.

I feel as though this season I have overcome my biggest hurdle; and that is accessibility to land. Living in the city as a young adult, buying land is not an option. I now grow on the property of Backed By Bees located in a less developed part of Burlington. Here, I have up to two acres to expand. I want to grow as much food as possible. I’m tripling my growing space next year and I can’t wait to get to work on that much land.

My biggest reward from market gardening is seeing the excitement in my customers when they pick up an order or come to market. People around me are not accustomed to seeing where their food comes from. I once picked beets for a lady and sold them to her a couple minutes later. She was so happy that she was clapping and laughing. I loved that I was able to do that for someone.

The intent of the Backed By Bees Market Garden, apart from growing food, is to teach people how to garden and to reconnect them with nature. It will be a place of learning – hosting class trips and group lessons. Teaching people that food is to be grown in a way that doesn’t harm the environment, and that growing food itself is a respectable and possible career path, is extremely important to the future of our society.

Just give it a go. If you’ve ever wanted to take a swing at growing your own food, you should give it a try. Things will go wrong but that’s the beauty of gardening. In gardening you usually get one shot a year at something. It takes time and it teaches patience. You learn as you go and before you know it you will be able to provide food for yourself and your family. It doesn’t have to be on a large scale. Plant some basil for your countertop. Growing food is the most fun, rewarding thing out there and I believe everyone should have a hand in what they eat.”