Living in a metropolitan city like Toronto doesn’t always bring images of chickens clucking about and fields full of lush edible vegetables. Believe it or not times are a changing, and they have been for a while. Toronto is a hub for all things linked to urban farming. An urban farm is something different to everyone, whether it is a small condo balcony with containers or a few feet in a community garden, the desire to get farming in the city is growing (pun intended)!
Some really great projects we have our eyes on are The Bowery Project, where vacant spaces in the city are being used as temporary farming spots. Community gardens organized by the city of Toronto allow for those who don’t have any access to land or balconies some space to farm. There are even great initiatives like The Stop, and FoodShare where the goal is to provide the local community access to healthy food options as well as opportunities to learn about growing your own food.
We wanted to provide you with some tips for your next urban farming project so we came up with some questions to ask our friend and seasoned urban farmer, Carson Arthur!
What does urban farming mean to you?
Urban Farming has several definitions, but for me, it really refers to homeowners turning their backyards, patios and balconies into functioning spaces that give back. Specifically, when homeowners grow food, raise chickens, or even keep bees in the middle of the city. The key to these types of projects working well is agreement from the neighbours! Obviously, growing vegetables can be done in any municipality but when you start with the types of urban farming that involve animals and insects, you need to consult local by-laws so that your urban farming isn’t impacting your neighbour’s outdoor enjoyment.
What would you suggest doing in order to change the way cities view urban farming?
This is a challenging conversation. We see the demand for fresh food and produce increasing across our urban centres. With Farmer’s markets and food box delivery companies popping up everywhere, homeowners clearly are looking for alternatives to expensive grocers. Unfortunately, the perception of urban farming being loud, smelly, even dangerous with bee-keeping really has hampered homeowners from trying to do more than growing tomatoes and peas.
What are the most common myths of urban farming?
People assume that urban farming is a lot of work, requires constant attention, and that you need a specific set of skills to be successful at it. All three of these are big myths. We know that homeowners who have been able to grow food in their spaces are the ones who have found balance between their lives and their yards. This is no different than having a perennial garden in the backyard. Its all about doing your research first and understanding what items require more or less time to maintain. With over 10,000,000 garden blogs on the Internet now, you can find the answers to any urban farming question you may have.
Where is a good place to see some examples of urban farms?
I always point people to the Internet first. You want un-biased opinions about the elements that you are going to include in your space. I’ve found that every ‘real’ location I’ve gone to is filled with people who are proud of what they do and their accomplishments….as they should be! Maybe that says a lot right there….
For a first time city farmer what advice would you provide? What would you suggest farming?
Start small and build up to it! The biggest mistakes that I’ve made so far in my backyard is rushing out and investing in a project without really understanding all of the intricacies of what I am committing to. Case in point…I ordered a great beehive from Australia because I saw some amazing videos and endorsements online. Now I have a fantastic empty beehive sitting in the middle of a meadow. One day I’ll get around to ordering the queen!
For a seasoned gardener how would you advise to take their urban farming skills to the next level?
I’m a big fan of adding chickens into the mix. There are more companies now that literally rent you a pair of chickens, the coop and the feed so that you can try out chicken farming for the summer. It’s a great way to see if this is something that you want to make a long-term commitment to.
What are some top trends you’ve noticed in urban farming?
Everything mini is definitely hot again! I’m not sure that this qualifies as urban farming, but mini donkeys, goats, and pigs are on every trendsetter’s radar. I can’t see many people wanting to eat them but these farm animals are going to tempting a lot of people in 2016.