Money & Career

May's Ms. Chatelaine is a hip, urban farmer

Lisa Giroday, a modern-day farmer, is on a mission to make Vancouver greener, one urban garden at a time.

Photo by Alana Lynn Paterson

Lisa Giroday; Photo by Alana Lynn Paterson

Ms. Chatelaine Lisa Giroday

Age: 30

Occupation: Co-founder of Victory Gardens

Hometown: Vancouver

Most of us wouldn’t leave the house without stashing lip gloss or mascara in our handbags. But for 30-year-old Lisa Giroday, gardening gloves and twine are the musts. As the strategist behind Victory Gardens, a city farming enterprise she runs with two friends in Vancouver, Lisa flexes her green thumb and spreads their motto: “We help you grow food!”

Whether it’s converting a condo balcony into a mini veggie patch or helping people master the basics (indoor herb garden, anyone?), Lisa and her team share their know-how in group workshops and one-on-ones. “We’re showing people how to rethink their urban spaces,” says the mostly vegan devout foodie. “Everyone is disconnecting from their food source and from what real food actually tastes like. We’re trying to change that.”

Lisa lives for the day when it’s no longer a novelty to see three ladies pile out of a pickup truck in the middle of the city with gardening tools in hand. “Having three passionate women behind Victory Gardens is incredibly meaningful,” she says of her work in a conventionally male-dominated field.

So how did Lisa come to be obsessed with sowing seeds and organic compost ? The artsy grow-your-own ambassador, who rides around town on a Harley motorcycle, isn’t the obvious pick to be slinging manure . Before donning her Victory Gardens “uniform” — a pair of hickory-stripe denim overalls and a floppy wide-brim straw hat — Lisa was a product developer for trendy Canadian retailer Aritzia and owned and curated Vancouver’s influential L.E.S. art gallery. Her childhood didn’t do much to cultivate a connection to the land, either. “I love my parents dearly, but they didn’t place much importance on eating fresh and local,” she says. “They were of the TV dinner generation, where more food came from the freezer than from the ground.” But in spite of her upbringing, Lisa adopted an eco-friendly lifestyle in her early 20s (no doubt inspired by her part-time schooling in environmental studies). It was honing her entrepreneurial skills in the arts, however, that gave her the push to co-launch a business in line with her green ethics.

Focused and ambitious, she’s perfectly suited to be an ambassador for urban farming. A tour of her heritage home — which she shares with her hubby, a former pro snowboarder — in Vancouver’s hip Riley Park neighbourhood reveals a stylish green oasis. A still life of fresh veggies adorns an office wall while orb-shaped terrariums hang from a window overlooking Lisa’s pièce de résistance: the lush backyard.“After a busy day with Victory Gardens, I sit on my porch with a beer and poke around in my own garden,” she says. “It’s my favourite way to decompress.”

Like the rest of us, Lisa can’t wait for sunny skies and warmer weather — not to mention a garden in full bloom. She’s running low on the blue-ribbon-worthy basil she froze after last summer’s harvest. “The leaves were as big as my hand!” she says. “I’m still using it in pestos and dressings. It’s just so incredible to cook right from the garden.”

Lisa’s telling details

My proudest moment was…when Gregor Robertson (my hero of a mayor) gave me two thumbs up after a speech I made.

I wish I had more time for…my family, riding my Harley, yoga; my amazing, amazing, amazing friends, birding and the outdoors (for hiking, showshoeing, camping).

The last time I lost my temper was…Totally lost it? Or lost it a little? I got “level 1” triggered when a seed supplier sent me conventional instead of certified-organic seeds.

I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about…how to “grow” my business.

My favourite moment of the day is…eating. (I love food.)

My perfect day would be…a full day in my garden with some friends, some cocktails and the cats.

My favourite quote is…There are many. One is “Grow food, not lawns.”


How to make the most of a small garden

Form a plan. This is important: It will ensure that the entire space is maximized throughout the season.

Grow fewer plants. The more space they have, the bigger they will be and the more bountiful your harvest.

Plant predictable seeds. They’re more likely to germinate and turn into plants. You don’t want to risk the time it takes to see if they grow.

Remember to water. If your plot features pots and containers, which dry out more quickly than in-earth beds, two big soaks a week is ideal.