via Instagram

Have you ever thought about growing your own food in the city? Cities were founded through agriculture, and the removal of farming from downtown cores has created generations so far removed from our food systems.

Why do we need Urban Agriculture? Growing things is one of the easiest ways for us to capture carbon. Plants are carbon-based and absorb Carbon Dioxide during the process of photosynthesis to make glucose. If the plants are killed and not absorbed or composted, they release the gasses back into the atmosphere.

We’re also running out of farmland and nutrients essential for traditional agriculture. By 2050, it’s estimated that we will need to increase agriculture production by 70% to meet everyone’s needs.

josh matlow instagram picture mentioning city planning looking into urban agriculture
urban agriculture in Toronto example of hydroponics
hydroponic farm example of urban agriculture for strawberries
via Instagram

Toronto’s Urban Farms

There are a few different ways that people grow in the city. Currently, in Toronto, there are few limits as to where you can grow food.

In December 2021, Josh Matlow, Counselor of Ward 12 started a consultation for reducing the number of required parking spots per units in condos. In underused parking garages, he is proposing redevelopment for amenities and urban agriculture.

We can look to similar models in Japan that have been successful over the last few years, using hydroponic farming in conjunction with fish farming on parking lot roofs.

Types of Urban Farms

City Gardens – There are both community and allotment gardens in the city of Toronto. Starting one is a process where you have to wait 3-5 years for city approval. See if there is one in your area you can join. This may be the most difficult way to go to try and start growing your own food.

Hydroponic Farms – Because of closed-loop systems hydroponic farms don’t create chemical runoff, and plants are able to absorb all the nutrients present. They can be up to 80% more efficient than traditional agriculture.

Aeroponic Farms – Up to 90% more efficient than traditional soil growing, plants are suspended in the air and occasionally have water and nutrient solution sprayed on them. This means less water and more concentrated nutrient solutions, which can lead to quicker grow times.

Vertical Farms – When a farm is grown with little to no outside influences, and inputs are controlled by farmers, it’s commonly referred to as ‘Controlled Environment Agriculture’. Farmers have been using different technologies to help pest control and extend the growing seasons for thousands of years. In 2015, it was estimated that Canada had 140 million sq ft of greenhouse growing space.

But relatively new to the scene is commercial-scale growing systems with racks. Instead of only growing at ground level, you can grow plants every foot on racks or vertical pipes that increase production square footage exponentially.

Big Growers in the City

Traditional Farms Operated in Toronto

Riverdale – A traditional farm operating since 1849, and city-run since 1973, near Parliament and Carleton. Mostly educational day trip, this farm has a working barn with cows, goats, sheep, pigs, and chickens. There’s also 3 km of trails, but dogs, bikes, and roller blades are not permitted.

Albion Hills – A family-owned business just north of Toronto, this farm has been operating since 1966 offering types of meat, cheeses and pretzels. You’ll find them at most Toronto Farmers Markets.

Black Creek – Eight acres of farmland focused on education and healthy food distribution. If you’re looking for agriculture classes in the city of Toronto, this is a great place to start.

Fresh City Farms – Operating Canada’s largest city farm, 8 Acres of traditional and greenhouses operating in Downsview Park. They are currently undergoing an expansion process, and have 0.5-acre plots available for long-term growers in the city (5-year or more commitment).

Rooftop Agriculture in Toronto

Ryerson’s Rooftop Farm – The quarter-acre farm that is mainly used as an educational program, and produces between 8,000 and 10,000 lbs of produce annually.

Alving Kitchen Rooftop Farm – 4,000 sq ft on the roof of this brewer, market, and restaurant uses low to no-till farming methods and composting to ensure high-quality produce for them to experiment with.

Sundance Harvest – Maybe the most social media famous, this grower currently only runs a three-person operation through greenhouses in Downsview. She also offers educational programs focusing on marginalized communities.

The Carrot Greenroof & Garden – Operated over the Big Carrot, a stable organic grocer on the Danforth, this garden is an 8,000 sq ft garden. With redevelopment in 2008, the Carrot rooftop garden became a community hub for green education.

What Can You Farm in Toronto?

Farming and agriculture are needed for a lot more than food. Pharmaceuticals and cosmetics are huge markets for the industry. Growing a consistent product in a controlled environment, especially rare plants that are usually transported long distances, is a huge benefit.

There are incredible advancements happening with indoor growing, and lighting, water temperatures, and day cycles are manipulated, among other things, to grow plants that have more of a specific beneficial property.

Because the city tends to run a little hotter than surrounding farmland, tomatoes, peppers, beans, and herbs all grow well.

Resources for Starting a Farm in Toronto

TRCA – The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority is listed as a resource for many of the current farms operating in Toronto. It currently leases over 279 hectares of land to farmers in the region. They have consultants for different areas of the city, and if you contact them for information, they are pretty quick to respond.

City Of Toronto – The city has recognized that Toronto’s rules and regulations leave a lot of ambiguity for those wishing to participate in Urban Agriculture. Here is where you can find the most current information regarding rules.

Cultivatd – If you’re looking to start an indoor farm, these are the main people to contact. They help small businesses find technology solutions that are scalable and affordable, as they are paid by the technologies, not the farmers.

via Instagram

have you visited any of the Urban Agriculture facilities in Toronto? Check out this post for resources on urban gardening, and let me know what cool companies you have found in the comments below!