Food to the Rescue

August 1, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
Ian Hepburn-Aley of FoodShare holds produce grown at Toronto's Bendale School Market Garden. Urban farming is gaining momentum in Canada as more people look towards ways urban centres can produce more food on rooftops or backyards now covered with grass. Toronto will host the first-ever Urban Agriculture Summit from Aug. 15 to 18. (Courtesy of Laura Berman, GreenFuse Photography)

TORONTO—There are dire threats in what we eat that a growing movement hopes to change by bringing people closer to their food.

Urban agriculture is seen as a solution to problems ranging from too many people eating processed foods produced cheaply in distant factories to vegetables denatured with genetic modifications aimed at increasing the amount of toxic pesticides they can withstand in the field.

Toronto will host the first-ever Urban Agriculture Summit from Aug.15 to 18, a gathering of the minds interested in eating produce produced on a nearby rooftop or inner city green space.

“From bee-keeping to community and school gardens; from aquaculture to rooftop farming, urban agriculture is becoming an essential element of food security, improving access to healthy, affordable food in a rapidly urbanizing world.

“Urban agriculture can also generate much-needed skills development and local employment while improving local environmental and community health,” proclaims the summit’s website.

Over 80 presenters will come to Ryerson University and share on how and why growing food in a tightly packed city can solve a long list of problems.

It’s a chance for those interested to learn more, and those already passionate to connect to a larger network of urban farmers, be they humble condo owners growing densely packed patio gardens or larger-scale efforts on abandoned lots.

Some of the benefits are obvious. Growing your own food alleviates the worry about pesticides and chemicals that possibly lie in supermarket groceries.

It can also become a great hobby. Interacting with nature will get the typical office worker, and low physical intensity employees, on their feet for some daily exercise.

The few downsides would include the time invested and the labour, if one’s lifestyle is already super busy and stuffed with activities.

At the three-day event, people ranging from designers to community activists, educators, or just simple homeowners and tenants will join in an “action-oriented” program, says an Urban Agriculture Summit news release.

There will be a trade show and series of courses on topics like rooftop agriculture and gardens for youth.

Sessions will include full- and half-day tours of examples of urban agriculture that includes a tour of Toronto City Hall’s green roof.

For those 15 years and older, workshops and tours range from $50 to $175 for delegates representing active groups or $75 to $199 for regular attendees.

One form of urban agriculture, known as SPIN, S-mall P-lot IN-tensive, transforms a lawn or backyard into a mini farm. “SPIN makes agriculture accessible to anyone, anywhere,” notes spinfarming.com. Unlike the summit’s hands-on workshops, the SPIN website offers new farmers online PDF file courses for prices ranging from $11.99 to $83.93.

The website also contains a list of local urban farmers to support. Some in the GTA include City Seed Farms, Fresh City Farms, the fresh veggies, and other Ontario SPIN farmers.

Ran Goel, co-founder of Fresh City Farms, writes on the summit’s blog that city farming is “perhaps the most positive, sensory-laden, human way we can connect people with real food and its joys given the way the world is.”

Speaking to The Epoch Times, Goel said people don’t immediately understand what urban agriculture is.

“People are slowly understanding the benefits of farming in an urban area—most important of which, [is] it gets people connected to food production and to farmers. Eighty percent of Canadians are city dwellers, and the vast majority of them do not have any meaningful contact with food production. They have no idea how [food] is made and how it’s made well,” said Goel.

Goel explains that city farming is important for any typical city dweller. By visiting a farm, smelling it, tasting it, meeting the farmers, meeting people that grow not just for fun but for a living—it changes people’s thinking about food, he said.

City farming is relatively low-profile and this is perhaps part of the reason various levels of government have been slow to support it.

“For the most part, the government has been absent. They have not been in the way, but for the most part they have not helped,” he said.

One example of urban agriculture is the green roof, where space overhead becomes a place to grow food.

From Oct. 17 to Oct. 20, Green Roofs will also be co-hosting the 10th annual Cities Alive conference in Chicago, the lead city of urban farming in North America. The conference is designed to have a similar motive—to increase city farming and agriculture.

For more information on the upcoming Urban Agriculture Summit, check out this urbanagsummit.org.

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