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Toronto Urban Farm

Located in one of Toronto's most vulnerable and stigmatized communities, this innovative community development initiative engages youth and the community in urban organic farming, leadership development, environmental stewardship and health promotion.

Background

The Toronto Urban Farm is a partnership between the City of Toronto and Toronto and Region Conservation (TRCA). The farm sits on approximately 3.2 hectares (8 acres) of TRCA-owned land near the southeast corner of Jane Street and Steeles Avenue at Black Creek Pioneer Village. Located in one of Toronto's most vulnerable and stigmatized communities, this innovative community development initiative engages youth and the community in urban organic farming, leadership development, environmental stewardship and health promotion. Services are provided through collaboration with the surrounding neighbourhood and organizations from various sectors, such as social agencies, schools, faith groups, and businesses.

The concept of the urban farm was developed in 2002 by TRCA. In 2002, TRCA turned over the eight acre parcel to the City of Toronto's Community Gardens Program (CGP) within the Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division City under a Management Agreement. The Toronto Urban Farm operates as an extension of the CGP's Rockcliffe Demonstration and Teaching Garden (RDTG). The RDTG offers multiple services that support community gardening and urban agriculture city-wide, such as demonstration of Beneficial Management Practices in urban agriculture, heirloom vegetable seedling production, youth and adult training in organic food production, and children's gardening.

Sustainable Near-Urban Agriculture

The Toronto Urban Farm project objectives fulfill Toronto City Council's mandate to promote urban agriculture and create local food production pilot projects. It also fulfills TRCA's commitment to the Sustainability Round Table and fulfills the Sustainable Communities objective under its The Living City vision by means of:

• Providing youth employment and leadership training skills
• Increasing participants' knowledge and skills of organic farming, environmental stewardship and local food systems
• Building community capacity to address local food security and environmental issues
• Promoting healthy nutrition and active lifestyles
• Increasing the availability of rare and nearly extinct vegetable and other plant species

 

Site

The site was once a former dairy farm acquired by TRCA in 1952. It includes Braeburn House-a 19th century heritage stone house that is used today as a training facility with washrooms, offices and storage. Braeburn house is one Weston's outstanding examples of architecture. It was built in 1853 by John Grubb, a pioneer in the Weston area. The house was moved to Black Creek Pioneer Village in 1962 stone by stone when threatened by demolition. Braeburn House is located in the northwest corner of the Black Creek Urban Farm. Toronto and Region Conservation recently turned the house over to the City of Toronto under Management Agreement for office, training and storage space. The building has been updated with a new roof and septic system, and will soon have a new porch. These updates have allowed for continued use of the building, while maintaining its architectural heritage value.


Current Activities

• Employment of 68 youth to date at the farm
• Experimentation with heirloom varieties of eggplant, tomato, squash, carrot, bean, beat, okra, pepper, parsley, basil, onion, sage, leek and many more.
• Engagement of youth in formal and informal sessions on leadership and life skills, including cross-cultural sensitivity, food security, time-management, and nutrition
• Creation of an Advisory Committee of representatives from several community agencies
• Preparation of farm site, including vegetation removal, installation of an irrigation system and fencing, soil tilling and bed preparation
• Hosted an Urban Farm open house attended by numerous community agencies, local residents, senior staff from TRCA and the City of Toronto, and the media
• Held several community events including Composting Week Kick-Off (partnership with Composting Council of Canada), and a 2-day work camp for 30 American youth from faith-based agencies
• Developed partnership with a local Starbucks Coffee shop to compost coffee grinds at RDTG
• Continued to support the Peer Nutrition Community Garden at RDTG (partnership with Toronto Public Health), which promotes healthy nutrition and social inclusion among newcomer women

 

Future

• Maintain youth training on the farm
• Expand production acreage

 

Testimonials

"The leadership is among them so we rotate," "So like every few weeks somebody else becomes the lead. There's no motorized equipment. Everything is done manually. Requires a lot of physical work, but that is where the transformation occurs."

"I feel it simplifies life." "When you're just working with plants and working with the earth, like there's nothing complicated about that. It's just the way things are."

Source: http://www.citynews.ca/news/news_24850.aspx