Written By Allison Smith, Thrive
Leaf Ninjas are transforming our urban communities, and putting our wasted backyard space to good use! They’re a spunky, driven, and eco-conscious group of urban farmers and permaculture designers in Calgary. But they aren’t doing it alone. With the help of community residents, Canadian experts, local farmers, restaurant owners and more, they’ve spread their roots in the Inglewood-Ramsay community, with urban farms split between 8 backyards.
The four childhood friends started Leaf Ninjas as a leaf raking and compost business. After they mastered the art of raking lawns, they started to dream bigger.
The team looked to the permaculture experts and were fortunate to be introduced to Curtis Stone, who is a leader in Small Plot Intensive (SPIN) farming. SPIN uses urban plots to grow food, with intensive techniques of successive crop growth and rotation to maximize productivity of small plots of land. With no background in agriculture, biology or the like, the team learned from their peers, sharing experiences and best practices. Ideas started sprouting and Leaf Ninjas’ passion grew into a business. Dave Carlton (pictured right), one of the founding members, saw that this type of urban farming was missing in Calgary. “You could name all the producers,” he explained.
It wasn’t about knowing everything about urban agriculture or permaculture. It was about finding meaningful employment, where the 4 friends could have a positive environmental and social impact. “If it doesn’t feel right, then we don’t do it,” Dave says in regards to meaningful employment. Each with diverse skills, but a common entrepreneurial spirit, SPIN farming was a rewarding, intensive challenge.
For the most part all the SPIN farmers in Calgary work together. “The market is big enough that we can work together,” Dave explained. Currently they are trying to form a cooperative called YYCMetroGrowers. That way they can tackle larger orders and push the local food movement. They already practice cooperative values in the fight for local, delicious food, proving the power of working collectively!
Maybe it never really went away, but Dave and the Leaf Ninjas are bringing bartering back into their lives. They barely spend any money on food, since they trade for eggs and meat with other local producers who all have excess products. It’s a simple way of living and it builds valuable relationships with other growers.
Picking apples from unexpecting neighbours, tasting mustard greens and crunching on dried fruit, you wont go hungry hanging with Leaf Ninjas for the afternoon. Dave lights up when he talks about his experience working with the residents of the Inglewood-Ramsay community. “It’s a fun job.That’s what it’s all about. Yes we need to live and sell stuff. The real root of what we do is inspiring and being apart of the community,”said Dave. Leaf Ninjas created the Inglewood farmer’s market to bring together local producers and community residents.
He enjoys working with chefs and community residents who see the greater overall value of shopping local. Although it may be more expensive, it also provides greater community and environmental value. “I’d rather work with someone who would make the extra effort to work with us,” Dave explained his draw to mutual relationships.
During the floods, Inglewood-Ramsay came together to support one another. “This micro-resiliency is awesome. We could feed portions of the community. We harvested half the farm, and gave it away,” he explained.
“The abundance of good,” is one of Dave’s favorite things about his job. Good food. Good work. Good community. And Good people. That and growing sunflowers!
Learn more about Leaf Ninjas and their upcoming events here: http://www.leafninjas.ca/
We farm to inspire our peers, to empower and educate ourselves with life skills, to provide quality food to restaurants, farmers markets and our community. It is a way to connect to the systems and rhythms of nature in our city for our city.