Sustainable Urban Agriculture

Learning and teaching about growing our own food is part of a larger vision for a sustainable food system. We hope that by developing and propagating strategies for food production on the school grounds, on public parklands and other community locations, we are making a contribution to a more sustainable future. By building a model for school food gardens, we seek to lessen our community’s dependence on industrial monoculture, to improve food system sustainability and with it, ecological and social health.

Transformation of public space such as school grounds into productive food gardens is just one step towards creating a more liveable city or town now and into the future when transporting food will become much more costly. Our vision is A Garden In Every School – as part of a multifaceted approach to sustainable agriculture in which the school food garden evolves in collaboration with multiple projects including healthy lunch/snack programs, farm-to-school programs, environmental education, food curriculum, farmer’s markets, rooftop gardens, community food security initiatives and environmental remediation projects.

In the United States, farm-to-school programs deliver farm-fresh produce to school boards through direct relationships between the farmers and the boards, or even individual schools. The students visit the farms during the growing season to get a real picture of where their food is coming from. This is much more educational than the standard farm field trip that, although possibly entertaining, is disconnected from the actual food consumed in the school. School food needs to be taken more seriously in Canada, taking inspiration from stateside where the U.S. Department of Agriculture already has supply lines into schools.

Schools and many public buildings have flat roofs, which could become “green roofs”, i.e. food production sites. One such site in Toronto, at 401 Richmond St., has a restaurant on the ground floor that sends its waste to the roof for composting. Fresh food is grown from the compost, and sent back down to the restaurant. The environmental impact of green roofs is so positive it is speculated that even if 10 per cent of Toronto roofs were green, Lake Ontario could become swimmable again, as green roofs reduce stormwater runoff, a major cause of lake pollution.

Farmers’ markets are increasing in popularity, which is good for farmers and good for consumers. There is no logical reason why large supermarkets should control the market for fresh foods; farmers’ markets support both the farmer and the consumer by cutting out the middleman and offering a fresher product, in most cases locally grown.

By incorporating food producting into children’s school day, we envision children and their families gaining the know-how and passion to convert empty lots, yards and balconies into abundant and biodiverse gardens. We believe that public institutions should be leading the effort to reclaim unused spaces on the ground or on rooftops for community food production. As each generation learns the difference between fresh, organic local food and the imported, processed products of industrial monoculture, they will be able to develop, enlarge and innovate sustainable urban food systems.