“Nothing focuses your attention as much as facing an execution tomorrow. So having a deadline is good to help accelerate the innovations we need to help solve the challenges we’re facing. You have this tremendous challenge: the Floriade.”
Dr. Wayne Roberts, manager of de Toronto Food Policy Council, gave a masterclass in Almere, the Dutch city hosting the agricultural world exposition in 2022. “Almere is an ideal candidate for city gardening. Promote your own city! You can’t promote it if you don’t love your city.”
What does the Food Policy Council contribute to urban agriculture?
“Food is complex and we need organisations that relate to that complexity. We are a link-tank instead of a think-tank. We’re trying to connect and put all the skills together. Urban agriculture is not competing with farming. In the city, food has a different kind of multifunctionality. It also has a social component. When people see the land as their land, they treat is as their land, they keep it clean.”
How do we get people to see the land as their own?
“Maybe we need a charter that describes what people want with their future.
signed a Food charter. If you’re born in the north, you’ve won the lottery. We have no idea how lucky we are. We need to see how the south deals with food issues. Food is a lever for every level in the city. For transportation, recycling, employment, public health. In Toronto we hand out the Local Food Hero-award every month for going the extra mile to bring local food closer.” Toronto
What’s the difference between conventional farming and urban farming?
“You can grow food in the city that has a direct relationship with what you see on your plate. For instance if there’s a direct connection like halal food or specific vegetables. If there’s no direct link, like wheat, you can grow it further away from the city. In a community garden you garden as a group and (not necessarily) share the crops. An allotment garden is much more productive but more of a hobby.”
Can everybody ‘join the club’?
“Food is social capital because it’s bonding (around the family table) and bridging; helping to meet another group. Think of the old and young by generation farming, people with low and high income, and people who are reintroduced in the community, like ex-convicts or psychiatric patients. There’s enough room to grow food: one sixth of every city has flat roofs. Green roofs pay for themselves, because they retain rain that doesn’t disappear in the sewage system. And in the summertime a green roof will cool its surroundings for about 5 degrees. We’re also growing food around schools and share it with the students to teach them about it. And on ‘Seedy Saturday’ people exchange seeds.”
Can’t you just buy local food?
“The difference between North America and
Europe is that people don’t have enough money to go to the market. It might happen here too. Why? We have the highest export of food in Canada and North America and there’s an obesity problem because people buy too much fast food, that’s cheaper and contains a lot of fat, sugar and salt. You can’t solve any of these problem of you look at it from just one angle.”
How do you get enough land for urban agricultural projects?
“Vacant space is calling to be used. There is a tradition of guerrilla gardening but it’s difficult to get land in parks. They are set up to escape the city. But there are lots of vacant land and lots of social housing. In Brasil a radical party was elected to run a city; they organised mass meetings and involved people in crowd funding and provided social gardens. If there’s a garden, they get tot know their neighbours and tend to stay longer and take better care of their home and surroundings. There’s also a movement called ‘In My Backyard’. You can make a deal with someone: I’ll take a quarter of what you produce if you do it in my garden. So there’s no limit in land.”
Is there room for animals in the gardens?
“There is room, but people of the Health Department are very careful about growing your own chickens and other animals. The city as a whole is very opposed to livestock, but it’s not illegal. The major issue is cruelty to animals, because people don’t know how to take good care of animals. They need to understand they have a responsibility.”
Why doesn’t everybody grow their own food?
“Half the city lives in apartments. And sometimes there’s pressure from neighbours who want lawns, no vegetables. Consumerism is the dominant ideology. You can basically solve the food problem by getting rid of lawns. There needs to be a cultural revolution. Make food accessible!
In World War Two there was famine. That’s deep in the DNA of Europe, but it’s not part of the North American culture.”
How environmentally sustainable is it?
“The majority (95%) of our groceries will be produced food from supermarkets. They have an enormous impact on farming. They place one order with big producers that puts all the smaller farmers out of business. The supermarket model is not sustainable. We need a main street again, with different local shops. Most of the things that are causing us a problem are subsidised. Most genetically engineered food, like soybeans and wheat, is for producing meat.
We need The Brown Revolution: urban agriculture is a way to use waste. From the water you use to wash to the water you use to water your plants. Compost is a product too. Composting should be done in the city. Transportation is another aspect. The lighter the package, the farther away it came. Recycling is a huge cost and we’re pricing our local producers out of the market.”
What difference can I make?
“There’s things you can influence tomorrow and there’s things you can influence on the long term. The mayor impact was influencing our NGO’s. I wanted them to work together, so that the amount of citizen action was increased. A 100% was in favour of city gardening. Because people do it for free. But it’s such a good idea that you should pay for it.”