Author Tags: Agriculture, Environment, Food, Poetry

Born in Duncan, B.C. in 1957, Rhona McAdam is the great grand-daughter of Vancouver Island pioneer William Duncan, namesake of the town. She grew up in Duncan, Fort St John, Terrace and Victoria. She also lived for 14 years in Edmonton and 12 years in London, England, before returning to Victoria in 2002. She has post-graduate degrees in communications planning, adult education and library and information science, and has worked in Canada, England and throughout Europe as a records manager, freelance writer, database administrator, corporate trainer and technical author. She worked throughout Europe for an executive search firm.

Rhona McAdam is a poet, blogger and food writer with a Master’s degree in food culture and communications from L’Università degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche (Bra, Italy). She writes a food and poetry blog (Iambic Cafe) and for several years taught an online course in urban agriculture and food security for St. Lawrence College.

Published in Canada, the US, Ireland and England, her poetry has been praised for her ability to create vivid landscapes, actual and emotional. In Cartography, her fifth collection of poetry, McAdam weaves an imaginative passage through the territories of love, work, family and aging.

In Digging the City, Rhona McAdam examines the efforts being made to introduce urban agriculture initiatives across Canada, to deal with the problems we’ve created and to protect our cities from real and potential crises in the food supply. Digging the City considers the effectiveness of plans and initiatives such as vertical farms, urban fish farms, seed banks, permaculture and water conservation projects.

Ex-Ville (Oolichan 2015), exploring the contradiction in emotion between arrivals and departures, of wanting to be in the place you aren't, in the place you left behind, is McAdam's sixth book of poetry.


Alberta Culture & Multiculturalism Poetry Award, for Hour of the Pearl, 1987.
Short-listed for the Pat Lowther Award, for Old Habits, 1993.


Life in Glass (Longspoon, 1984)
Hour of the Pearl (Thistledown, 1987)
Creating the Country (Thistledown, 1989)
Old Habits (Thistledown/Slow Dancer, 1993)
Cartography (Oolichan, 2006) 0-88982-221-2 $17.95
Crosswords (Frog Hollow Press, 2003)
Sunday Dinners. (JackPine Press, 2010). (out of print) 978-0-9865426-1-9
The Earth's Kitchen. (Leaf Press, 2011). $10.00 978-1-926655-25-3
Digging the City: An Urban Agriculture Manifesto (RMB, 2012) $16.95 978-1-927330-21-0
Ex-Ville (Oolichan 2015) $17.95 978-0-88982-306-8

[BCBW 2015] "Poetry"

Digging the City
Review (2012)

By Richard Pickard

Phospholipase A2 & and you

Every writer trying to deal with environmental questions, especially in something like the Manifesto series from Rocky Mountain Books that tries to solve one problem or another, has to overcome one key challenge: deferring your reader's despair, so that the reader gets far enough into your book to start thinking seriously about possible solutions.

I'm not certain that Rhona McAdam quite manages that for an uninterested reader with Digging the City: An Urban Agriculture Manifesto (RMB 2012), but I'm not bothered by any such uncertainty. It's a manifesto, after all, so the book can be excused if it's engaged mostly in communicating and rather less in marketing.

This book stands out from other attempts to solve environmental crises for being an engagingly quiet book, a book of sadness, even through its anger, so it reads a little like a manual, a little like a memoir, and a little like testimony. It's personal, in the end, for all its careful detail about global crises and about local crises from around the world. It mean that as praise. McAdam neatly manages to sound like she's chatting with her reader, rather than lecturing.

For instance, I was hooked by the way that McAdam so casually mentioned Phospholipase A2. Of course you already know what this is, but this was the first time that I'd ... oh, you haven't heard of it? McAdam brings it up while she's talking about how the food industry blends ingredients together in pursuit of profit through non-transparent food production. Dry bread crumbs can be kind of sharp when they're from home-made bread, but commercial bread crumbs aren't nearly as sharp, and for this softness you can thank the good folks behind the industrial development of phospholipase A2, because it's this enzyme that makes most commercially baked bread so wonderfully soft.

No, actually you should thank pigs. Commercially baked bread is soft because it contains an enzyme sourced from pigs' pancreas tissue. Every time you enjoy a chewy, soft mouthful of industrially baked bread, you're eating a microscopic but distinct amount of a pig's pancreas. Yum.

People wonder why I'm so angry sometimes about environmental issues, corporate greed, and natural-ish food. Me, I wonder (and marvel) at how McAdam can mention something like phospholipase A2 and move on to a helpful description of composting, or a neighbour's vegetable garden, without slipping into apoplexy. There's hope in this book, and in the world, and it's to McAdam's great credit that I could read her book and see ways for me to change my behaviour, rather than seeing mostly opportunities for useless anger.

Backyard aquaculture (tilapia in barrels); local veggie swaps; trading vegetables for your neighbour's compost: as we run lower on oil, these things will stop being optional, so we might as well start getting used to them. In Digging the City: An Urban Agriculture Manifesto, Rhona McAdam's a pretty great tour guide to the future.