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What is an urban farm and why are they so important?

We took a tour of Toronto’s Fresh City Farms to find out.

Why are urban farms important? We visited Toronto’s Fresh City Farms to find out, but here’s a little preamble to break that question down, before you get to the video (below).

For many city dwellers, access to genuinely fresh local produce is just not possible.

Farmland is generally well outside of urban areas. Farmers’ markets are not as readily available as perhaps they could be. Neighbourhood grocery stores tend to sell what’s best for their bottom line. (Which is not necessarily locally-sourced produce.)

Urban farms, or urban agriculture, can offer a solution — by bridging the gap between farmland and city living. Happily, as it turns out, there’s an urban farm executing exactly these kinds of gap-bridging maneuvers right in gardenstead’s home city of Toronto.

In early November, we took a tour of Fresh City Farms, a verdant plot of farmland just north of our offices. We wanted to find out more about urban farming — what it provides to local communities, and why it’s so darned important.

Watch the video to take a tour of the farm, and read on below for more information about urban farming and the possibilities it presents.

Two ‘official’ definitions of urban farming

Fresh City Farms is located in Toronto, in Canada’s province of Ontario. So let’s start with the Ontario government’s definition of urban agriculture: food production in urban areas, whether it is for personal consumption, commercial sale, education or therapy.

And here’s The United States Department of Agriculture definition: urban agriculture includes the cultivation, processing and distribution of agricultural products in urban and suburban areas.

Fresh produce for city residents

Fresh City Farms delivers their produce to residents throughout Toronto. They also operate a farmstand, which sells freshly harvested vegetables to anyone who visits the farm during the growing season. Plus, the farm hosts a farmers’ market throughout the summer.

To get to the farm, people can walk in from neighbouring communities, drive in, or reach it easily via public transportation.

And this is precisely the way that urban farms, like Fresh City Farms, have the potential to address the problems presented by food deserts in cities.

What is a food desert?

A food desert is an area in which residents have limited or obstructed access to healthy, affordable and nutritious food (like fresh vegetables). Perhaps the nearest grocery store is some distance away and a person doesn’t have a car. Or, public transportation is not readily available, making it difficult to get to a market to get fresh produce.

However you break it down, in a food desert, the core problem is that it’s difficult for people who live within them to get access to fresh food.

Farms like Fresh City Farms, accessibly located in a densely populated urban area, provide their surrounding community members with access to freshly grown food.

Reducing food miles

Food miles, or the distance food travels before it arrives to your kitchen can often be quite tremendous. One study showed that food for the average Canadian meal travels approximately 1200 km before it arrives to one’s plate.

Food that has to travel great distances before it gets to a grocery store is often harvested before it’s fully ripe. During the time between harvest and when it gets into your refrigerator, it slowly loses nutritional value. Buying produce locally, when possible, is better for the earth in terms of reducing greenhouse gases, but it’s also better for you, nutrition-wise.

Urban farms are also green spaces

Green spaces in urban areas are crucial for the wellbeing of their citizens. Spending time in nature is good for mind, body and spirit.

Urban farms, being as they are great big green spaces in the middle of urban areas, offer these benefits, alongside their ability to produce healthy food for neighbourhoods. They’re not just spaces for growing vegetables, they’re also spaces where people can visit to connect to a green world that supports the very food system they rely upon.

Urban farms around the world

Urban farms and urban agriculture initiatives are making a difference in cities all over the world. A quick search yields numerous results, but here are a few of the ones that caught our eye.

In New York City, this article explores 15 urban farms and gardens that are bringing fresh fruit and veg to its residents.

In Cleveland, Ohio, the Ohio City Farm is “one of the largest contiguous urban farms in the United States” on six acres. It’s operated by a non-profit called The Refugee Response, and works to provide fresh local food, and to educate residents about food security and the food system in which they live.

In Paris, France, a company called Agripolis has created what they describe as the largest urban farm in the world — a rooftop garden atop the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles exhibition centre.

And the city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, is working with five interconnected local neighbourhoods to build an enormous urban garden. Its size will total the area of 15 soccer fields, and its goal is to provide food to the local population and “provide a source of income to disadvantaged families”.

Tell us about urban farming in your city

Is there an urban farm that’s making a difference in your neighbourhood? We’d love to hear about it. Share your experience in the comments for our video about Fresh City Farms on our YouTube channel. And while you’re there, why not subscribe to our channel? We’d love to have you join our online community of gardeners.

Note:
We’re grateful to the partner farmers at Fresh City Farms who allowed us to film their work:
Ubuntu Community Collective
Zawadi Farm
YMCA of Greater Toronto
Yoyu Aquaponics

yellow petaled flower by elias sorey unsplash

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