Everywhere I look I see gardens overflowing with life. As I walk the grounds, I encounter raised beds brimming with leafy greens. I follow the trail of pea shoots and zucchini vines as they climb out of tubs and crawl along the side of buildings. I peer into milk crates and see plants with tiny, yellow flowers that promise an abundance of tomatoes soon to come. Between the blooms I can still make out the disused cart tracks, the old rusted pipes, and the crumbling brick facades that point to the history of the site. Surrounded by so much verdure it may come as a surprise to most but Evergreen Brick Works was home to a factory for over 100 years. Today prolific greenery pours forth from all sides. That is the transformative power of urban agriculture.
An Urban Agriculture Tour at Evergreen Brickworks
Evergreen Brick Works (EBW) is the national headquarters of the environmental charity Evergreen whose focus is bringing nature into cities. I have the pleasure of being a sustainability tour guide at this unique environmental education hub. I teach visitors about the redevelopment of the old brick factory into a LEED’s certified model of sustainability. Periodically I get asked to lead tours about my very favourite subject – urban agriculture!
On this occasion I’m leading a group of young adults who’ve come all the way from North Bay to learn about the urban agriculture projects at EBW. These students are members of a government funded initiative to teach high school students about local food. They have visited already visited a farmers’ market and have plans to take a cooking class. My hope is that I can get them excited about the possibility of cultivating food in the urban setting that is their school.
I explain to the group that urban agriculture can be defined simply as the growing of plants and the raising of animals within cities. We talk about how it can contribute to regional food security by providing fresh fruits, vegetables and sometimes protein, to local people. We learn that edible gardens can be set up with very little cost. We see firsthand all the steps of the food cycle including growing seedlings in the greenhouse, transplanting to outdoors, watering using collected rainwater, composting to fertilize the soil and of course harvesting the produce! We see clearly how urban agriculture can convert derelict spaces into productive, beautiful, and safe spaces that communities can share.
As I explain the many social, environment and economic benefits of urban agriculture the group excitedly ask questions and share stories of their other food adventures. I love that they are enthusiastic and want to take home these lessons to their own lives. I am hopeful that our conversations will have opened their mind to the possibility of building self-reliant, food secure cities. These young people are the future and I hope I’ve been able to plant the seed of a greener one.
Now It’s Your Turn! If you are ever in Toronto, I highly recommend taking a tour of Evergreen Brick Works. Parties of 15 or more, can book their own guided tours and public, drop-in tours are available every Saturday at 2pm. Not in Toronto? Find an urban agriculture project in a city near you and take a walk around. Most are open to the public and many even have signage that explains what plants are being cultivated. Feeling inspired? Sign up to volunteer at a community garden and get in on the fun!