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Connecting cities to their roots

Why urban agriculture is vital to creating flourishing cities.

Reaching for fresh produce at Woodbine Garden

Published on March 13, 2019

Urban agriculture is on the rise in cities all over the world, from basement apartments all the way up to the rooftops of high-rise buildings. Evergreen is working on building cities of the future, with urban agriculture as a key element.

Cities need agriculture.

Sixty-eight per cent of the world’s population is projected to live in urban areas by 2050. In Canada alone, the percentage of people who live in rural areas has declined from 46 per cent in 1941 to 19 per cent in 2011. This has contributed to a disconnect from agriculture in cities.

“It’s a collective forgetfulness,” says Ashlee Cooper, Project Manager of Urban Agriculture Programming at Evergreen.

Ashlee says we have it in our DNA to be able to grow our own food. The recent shift to people living in denser environments has led to new generations of people who get their food from grocery stores and have forgotten where food actually comes from. They just need to be reminded.

Volunteers planting Woodbine GardenCommunity members planting The Community Food Garden at Woodbine Racetrack, an initiative led by Evergreen to bring the community together and provide families in need with access to fresh and healthy food.

Cities can learn from nature.

“We need to realize there's really not that much of a difference between humans and plants,” says Isaac Crosby, Former Lead Hand of Urban Agriculture at Evergreen. “We need air. We need water. We need sunlight. We need food. And so do plants. And plants need a place to live. So do humans. Plants can be anywhere. So can humans.”

Isaac demonstrating how pineapples grow on his hand, him showing a hydroponics system out of a pop bottleIsaac showing how you can take a pineapple top and grow a new plant with a homemade hydroponics system. All you need is a pop bottle and an old washcloth.

Isaac says the most important element cities can learn from nature is diversity. “If you don’t have diversity in a city, you’re basically doing monoculture.”

Isaac comes from an Indigenous background with the Ojibwa of Anderdon. Everything he learned about Indigenous gardening techniques came from his grandparents. Now, his goal working at Evergreen is to spread the joy by teaching people in cities practical Indigenous gardening.

“We're not teaching things that are fluff and trendy,” says Isaac. “We're using Indigenous knowledge and teaching practical skills that everyone across the board can use.”

Evergreen gives people the tools to take urban agriculture into their own hands.

Urban agriculture is an important tool for diversifying the regional food system. Most important, the growing and sharing of food connects people, supporting the development of vibrant, diverse communities. Urban agriculture can take on forms such as a community garden, vertical farm or even condo garden.

Evergreen’s urban agriculture programs demonstrate how to create closed-loop systems for agriculture in cities, recycling food waste and returning it back to the soil. At Evergreen Brick Works, groups of dedicated volunteers such as the Worm Wranglers and Compost Crew meet every week to turn food waste from Café Belong, the Sipping Container and 3rd party events at the Brick Works into soil. With this, they grow new plant life on the site. These programs keep the cycle going by teaching people of all ages how to build these systems into their own lives.

Volunteers in the greenhouse at Evergreen Brick Works.Volunteers working in the greenhouse at Evergreen Brick Works to create a "Soil Enhancer". It will be sold at Evergreen Garden Market for a donation to support Evergreen's Urban Agriculture programs.

Currently, Evergreen runs urban agriculture programs at Evergreen Brick Works, Flemingdon Park Ministry's The Common Table and the Community Food Garden at Woodbine Racetrack. Evergreen will be continuing work in these spaces and expanding our urban agriculture programs in communities all over the Greater Toronto Area. These spaces will serve as destinations which connect people, teach practical skills, nourish local residents, and harness the volunteer network locally.

Urban agriculture has been embedded into Evergreen since its beginning. To create cities that flourish – cities that are green, livable and prosperous, we need food.

Looking to get involved in Urban Agriculture?

Keep your eye out for volunteer opportunities within our Urban Agriculture programs.