It’s a warm summer evening and as Alex and I pull up in the driveway, Joe greets us with a big smile from his backyard garden. I am quickly ushered into the kitchen and within minutes, snacking on cheese and sausage – which were store bought, but Alex explains that he usually makes his own sausages too. As nonno prepares us pasta with the sauce he canned himself with tomatoes from his garden, I sip on a glass of homemade wine and we chat about his life.
Joe is from Sepino, a small town in Southern Italy. Ten days after he was married, his wife moved to Canada for work, and he followed a year later. They lived in the Italian community in Field, BC while he was working on the railroad for fifteen years, before moving to Port Coquitlam.
Joe’s house in Port Coquitlam, where he’s lived for over forty years, is equally surrounded by community, Italian and otherwise. He has a big family, with some relatives living within walking distance, and he sometimes babysits for his Chinese neighbours — noting to me that they sure like their food spicy.
We don’t talk much at all about the benefits of eating organic, or of food security and sustainability — although his garden is an example of just that. What is apparent, instead, is how passionate he is about growing food. As I walk slowly through his garden, camera in tow, he is beaming with pride, pointing out different types of tomatoes and conjuring cucumbers from behind piles of leaves. He shows us how he is grafting his pear tree, and we pick raspberries from the bushes to snack on.
The evening winds down and before I leave with a giant bag of lettuce, cucumbers and onions that Joe insists I take, I ask him what he likes about gardening — why does he grow his own food, hard work and all?
He merely shrugs at the strangeness of my question, as though he couldn’t fathom a different way of life, and says with a smile, “what else am I going to do?”