On our trip to Newfoundland, we went on seven boat trips and traveled more than 7200 kilometers in our car. It was the best kind of journey where we knew that around every corner was a beautiful view and every road would take us on a new adventure. We wound our way through the mountains in Gros Morne, crept along narrow passages in provincial parks, and meandered along the coastline in Labrador. At least, we did all of those things in between me yelling, “Wait! Stop the car! There’s another one!”
Potato gardens. Right there next to the asphalt, there were huge beds of potatoes (sometimes cabbage and carrots, too). Some of them had fences made of nicely matched lumber, but others were made from bits of leftover logs and boards, or even green plastic mesh. The garden rows were always tidy and healthy and green. I don’t know how many times we stopped, but it was a lot. I was amazed every time I saw one. How cool it is that Newfoundlanders grow their potatoes on the side of the road?
When we were in L’anse aux Meadows I asked a local gentleman about them. “Oh those,” he said nonchalantly. “Lotsa people have those gardens. The soil around here is pretty terrible for growing things. But when they brought the highway through some years ago the machines turned up all the good soil from way down deep. It was just lyin’ there next to the road, so people just decided to grow their vegetables right there.” No permits, no municipal bylaws. Just down to earth people being sensible. Imagine that.
Even better was what my new friend A. told me after that. I asked him how they secured their produce. Didn’t anyone steal their potatoes or cabbages? I asked. Was there no vandalism to their fences? “No, no,” he said. “Everybody knows where everybody else’s gardens are. We keep an eye out for each other. Make sure they’re alright.” So not only do Newfoundlanders have cool roadside gardens, they grow them with a beautiful and generous spirit.
Of course it makes sense. In such a remote place and in such a harsh climate, people need to stick together. There isn’t a convenience store on every corner or trucks delivering raspberries and lettuce every day. Travelling from town to town requires a major investment of time. Neighbours rely on each other for help, friendship and protection from potato rustlers .
And that is why we don’t have potatoes growing on the side of the road in Ontario. In the suburbs and cities that are so common here, we have become far too self reliant. We scurry into our houses at night, close the doors and lock each other out because we have everything we need: strawberries in January, a plumber to fix the sink, and two tickets to the symphony Wednesday night. We have the luxury of being so consumed with our own busy lives that most of us barely remember we even have neighbours. If you don’t believe me, just ask yourself: when was the last time you went next door to borrow a cup of sugar?
Unlike our east coast neighbours, we have fallen out of practice at needing each other. We have forgotten how to work together. It doesn’t occur to us to help each other, or even that we’re on the same team.
So cheers to the people of Newfoundland. They have a thing or two to teach the rest of us on not just how to grow potatoes, but how to be good neighbours, too.