This story originally appeared in Edible Toronto’s Summer 2016 issue.
As she walks along the edges of sweeping rows of organic garlic at Samsara Fields, Soyoung Lee makes a beeline for a patch of wild catmint.
She reaches for it, breaking off a bunch, but not for the reason you might expect of a farmer. Lee, who grows heirloom vegetables with partner J.P. Gural on this rolling swath in Waterford, Ontario, sees the value in this prolific squatter known for making cats loopy. Weeds provide great benefit, she says, as she breathes in the plant’s pungent smell. They’re medicinal, therapeutic, and often edible, so she leaves the catmint in the ground and doesn’t bat an eye at its overgrown, uninvited neighbours.
It’s not the typical response of someone whose job description usually includes doing battle with weeds for the sake of their crops—their livelihood. But Lee and Gural aren’t your typical farmers. Sure, they grow food for a living but this is about more than trying to earn a paycheque from the 44 acres they cultivate.
“We’re doing this as activism,” Lee says.
Like many small organic farmers, they’re railing against the usual suspects: conventional, large-scale agriculture, unsustainable cheap food, urban sprawl, and the political and bureaucratic red tape that comes with any kind of farming. Their reasons for working the land to make the world a better, healthier place also go deeper than that, and have much to do with why that catmint was spared.