Diary of a Compost Hotline Operator

Winner of 2004 Garden Globe award of achievement from the Garden Writers of America

Whether it’s the sight of city folk pulling weeds or mixing compost, harvesting juicy berries or plump tomatoes, or just caring for green grass without chemicals, one thing is certain: urban agriculture is booming! One example of a longtime urban program  is Vancouver’s City Farmer, otherwise known as “Canada’s Office of Urban Agriculture,” where Spring Gillard was lucky enough to have the job title – Compost Hotline Operator. With City Farmer’s encouragement and help – much of it from the Compost Hotline – more than 44% of the people in Vancouver are growing some of their own food. Luckily for the rest of the world, in the 1990s the City Farmer workers had the good sense to spread their gospel to the Internet. Apparently, it has filled quite a need: in 2002, the City Farmer web site received more than four million hits from people bitten by the urban agriculture bug.

In DIARY OF A COMPOST HOTLINE OPERATOR: Edible Essays on City Farming (New Society Publishers, October 2003), Gillard gives readers a taste of the sweet life at City Farmer, weaving together essential gardening facts and tips, charming stories about quirky urban gardeners, and a healthy heaping of good humour. A former advertising writer with a flair for words, Gillard stumbled into City Farmer’s plot one day in 1991, got a job, and stayed for fourteen years. She spent her days providing well-researched answers to callers on the Compost Hotline at City Farmer, cooking up new projects, and publicizing the successes and joys of sustainable city farming and gardening.

Although she was raised by growers and spent her late high school years on a five-acre orchard, Gillard had no interest in gardening early on. “I hated gardening, probably because Mom was always trying to get us to work in the garden with her,” she quips. Years later, and just days after she “had run screaming from the world of advertising,” Gillard discovered the Vancouver Compost Demonstration Garden, where she found her calling and a motley crue of new friends, too, many of whom also had been wondrously “recycled” by the garden. In DIARY OF A COMPOST HOTLINE OPERATOR, Gillard shares her experiences with the characters whom she talks to on the phone and encounters in City Farmer’s garden beds, all the while dispensing knowledge on dealing with critters, droughts, bugs, bear visitations and doggy doo; growing a lush, chemical-free lawn; and keeping a sense of humour about it all.

From delightful tales of garden tours and garden parties to trips around the City Farmer plots and trips around the world (including tours of urban gardens in New York City and Cuba), plus a happy-ending love story, DIARY OF A COMPOST HOTLINE OPERATOR is an entertaining and informative read sure to delight all readers, even if they’ve never heard of vermicomposting or eaten a kumquat. With lists of contacts and resources related to gardening, this engaging read is full of information and humour for the experienced city gardener and downright inspiring for the novice. Gillard celebrates the joys and laments the minor tragedies of gardening, addressing the real concerns people have in trying to raise more of their own food and also cutting to the heart of why urban dwellers want to garden/farm in the first place: it provides a connection to the land, tangible measures of success, and an opportunity to find community, friendship, and even love.

Edible Essays on City Farming
by Spring Gillard
New Society Publishers
October 2003 / Trade Paperback
ISBN: 0-86571-492-4

Here’s how you can order the book.

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