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Infectious Viral Fun!

February 6, 2018

Lana Tran twitter postOn January 24, we had 30 participants come out for our Permaculture 101 and Garden Planning Workshop at OISE. Ivan Chan from Eden in Season kicked things off with a one-hour lesson on some of the core principles of permaculture, such as integration, diversity and resilience. Before planning a garden, it’s important to first start with observation of the site you wish to transform, and then design based on your observations in order to achieve your garden planning goals. Taking into consideration the various characteristics of the site is key. What can be changed, and what must we figure out how to incorporate into our design? Soil for example can be improved over time through the addition of organic matter like compost, whereas the topography, surrounding buildings, and climate are not easily modified – particularly by students whose gardening is subject to the approval of the University administration. We can only use land that University Grounds (Facilities and Services) permits us to use, frequently in collaboration with other relevant departments. For our context, we must learn to work with the university bureaucracy if we want to garden on university property.

Once you’ve observed a site and come up with a design, you need to consider the resources that will need to go into making the garden a reality, such as seeds, compost, water, sun, and labour. Over the years, we’ve found that our best gardens are those located near already existing sprinkler systems, thereby limiting the labour required for manual irrigation.

Ivan also had us thinking about the shapes we find occurring in nature, such as spirals, snowflakes, or the way branches and roots grow. In nature, we rarely encounter straight gridlines or triangles. Instead, there are more complicated, interconnected patterns and undulations. Finally, Ivan encouraged us to introduce another core principle to our gardening ethic: stimulating infectious viral fun! Labour is one of the most important resources we rely upon to start and maintain any garden, so making the work fun and rewarding is key to ensuring volunteers continue to stay involved.

Charles, Jan. 24 workshop

Charles presenting his group’s ideas for the Anthropology Greenhouse

After our introduction to permaculture, we broke into four groups to brainstorm ideas for our different projects this season: the UTSU Gardens, the Sid Smith Plot, the Anthropology Garden and Greenhouse, and the hope of establishing a spiral herb mound at Hart House post ramp construction (the ramp will be built on top of our previous garden in front of the building.) Each group was provided with some background for their relevant site to inform their plans, and after 20 minutes they presented their ideas to the larger group.

Some of the ideas involved the importance of rotating crops to ensure soil health, and the need to avoid soil compaction. Others came up with ways to integrate vertical systems to make better use of the limited space, or how to tap into various funding sources to buy any required materials. It was wonderful to sense the excitement in the air at all the possibilities of what we could achieve through working together collaboratively. It was also great to meet so many people with different backgrounds and skill sets, eager to share their knowledge.

A special thank you to Ivan Chan for facilitating this workshop for us, and to UTSU for contributing an honorarium. Thanks as well to all of those who came out and contributed to such a successful planning exercise!

Kristy Bard
Coordinator, Dig In! Campus Agriculture


Permaculture 101 with Ivan Chan & 2018 Garden Planning Workshop

January 7, 2018

Dig In! Campus Agriculture Presents

PERMACULTURE 101 with Ivan Chan, followed by a 2018 Garden Planning Workshop

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 24, 2018, 3:00-5:00PM, OISE ROOM 2205

Toronto native Ivan Chan received his Permaculture Design Certificate in 2011, and has since established Eden in Season in Meaford, where he designs edible gardens, supplies and harvests from a diversity of perennial crops. At this workshop, Ivan will present how permaculture ideas can be applied to urban gardens, and then we’ll break out into discussion groups to brainstorm and plan out Dig In!’s 2018 growing season.  View a summary of our campus agriculture projects here

Please RSVP at

Click here to view the pdf event poster. Jan. 24 Permaculture 101 poster

Salad Fest Hosted by Dig In! and UC Lit Sustainability Commission

December 10, 2017

Salad Fest, photo by Samantha Lucchetta

The sky is grey, the trees are bare, and the city is very, very cold. Winter is here. Although harvest time is now behind us, the last of the campus’s veggies were able to make a colourful, final appearance at Salad Fest on November 29th.

Salad Fest was a collaboration between Dig In! and the University College Literary & Athletic Society’s Sustainability Commission. The University College Commuter Student Centre was the cozy venue for the event, from noon until two. A small crowd of students had trickled in just in time for lunch to take a small break during this stressful time of year. The menu consisted of salad made of various herbs and leafy greens from the Anthropology Greenhouse and the Huron Sussex Community Garden, such as kale, collards, sorrel, chives, spinach, and arugula. Garlic and onions were sourced from Dig In! Coordinator Kristy Bard’s Pomona Farm, and some pickled radishes grown near Meaford at Eden in Season was an excellent addition. We also had various dried and fresh herbs on hand, such as mint, lemon balm, golden rod, yarrow, lilac, catnip, pennyroyal tea and stinging nettle for concocting medicinal teas.

To kick off the event, cutlery courtesy of the Sustainability Office were given out as prizes for correctly answering agriculture-related trivia questions. The reusable cutlery consisted of a set of chopsticks, a fork, and a spoon conveniently packaged in a small carrying case. After the trivia session, Salad Fest participants tucked into platefuls of salad with their new, reusable utensils.

As people ate their salad and sipped their tea, the kitchen area of the Commuter Student Centre buzzed with conversation. Overheard were discussions on campus spaces available for gardening, how to get university students and staff more involved in sustainability initiatives, and a permaculture workshop Dig In! is planning for scheduled for early 2018.

Although this is a listless time of year, Dig In! will continue to host activities and prep for planting season. As an increasing number of people at U of T become interested in urban agriculture and sustainability, we look forward to an exciting growing season this coming spring and summer!

~Sam Lucchetta, Dig In! volunteer

Join us November 29 for Salad Fest!

November 19, 2017

Salad Fest

In collaboration with the UC Lit Sustainability Commission, Dig In! will be co-hosting this event featuring campus grown veggies and herbs from the Anthropology Greenhouse. Come have a wholesome and healthy salad to cleanse your exam blues and late night junk food irks! We will also have fresh and dried herbs available for tea.

Join us in conversation about vegetarianism, sustainable local food, and agricultural opportunities (on campus and at home) while enjoying a nice, healthy, and wholesome plate of salad and warm cup of tea. We’ll have some fun trivia questions related to campus agriculture, for which the Sustainability Office will be providing portable (and reusable!) cutlery as prizes. Please RSVP at

Bees are the Best: Dig In! Hosts Pollinator Workshop

October 18, 2017

Don and Nelly Young digging in to some delicious honey at the Sept. 29 Pollinator Workshop. Photo by Jonathan Sabeniano

by Don Young

I didn’t expect surprises but there were many at Dig In!’s Pollinator Workshop on September 29. Gillian Leitch, landscape designer (, beekeeper and a Director with Bee City Canada ( led the workshop, which was co-sponsored by The Sierra Club and U of T Bees. We began after a delicious honey tasting that had all licking their fingers as well as their lips.

First surprise – honeybees are not native to North America! They were brought here by European settlers. Honeybees are great pollinators but are viewed by some as a monoculture that threatens biological diversity. An invasive species, they’ve competed with native bees and other pollinators for food, right from the beginning. Native bees and other pollinating insects are equally important, if not more so, in the essential service of pollinating most of our edible and decorative plants, as well as all fruit-bearing trees. Without pollinators – and bees of all kinds are the best – food production would plummet and, along with it, all animal life, including human.

Gillian has helped to make Toronto the first Bee City in Canada and is involved in the City’s Biodiversity and Pollinator Protection Strategies, which have buy-ins from all City departments. A leader in the City’s Pollinator Working Group, she is helping to map habitat, promote pollinator gardens and pollinator-friendly plants and trees, green roofs with shade and deeper soil, linked green spaces, the conversion of old landfill sites and pollinator-friendly roadsides. (For more information, visit Bee City is signing up businesses and institutions to support these efforts. Gillian would love to help U of T become the first Bee City University in Canada.


Gillian Leitch teaching us about pollinators. Photo by Jonathan Sabeniano

Neonicotinoids and other pesticides threaten to destroy all of this good work. Neonics are 7,000 times more toxic than DDT and have spread throughout our environment, thanks to commercial agriculture, especially corn and soy production. The kernels and seeds are coated with sticky neonics, which are then separated with talcum powder for planting. The toxin gets into the air during seeding. Neonics are in the air we breathe, in the water we drink and in the food we eat. They are deadly to all pollinators and have been linked to various animal and human ailments – research is currently underway linking them to autism.

For gardeners, the workshop offered much advice on what to grow and, again, many surprises. Who knew that heavy mulching was wasteful and bad for pollinators? Most native bees build their nests in holes in the ground. Covering up these holes can leave them homeless or without a place to dig.  At least 10 percent of your garden should remain un-mulched, especially around the edges where bees prefer to nest. Instead of mulch, apply compost around each plant. And ignore the signs telling you to “keep off the grass.” Walk on all the lawns you can. Your footprints create edges where bees can gain access.  As Dig In! volunteers, we should help pollinators to dig in too. In turn, they will help us make a success of campus agriculture.

For further information:

Inspiration from Ryerson Urban Farm

October 5, 2017

IMG_6497On September 8, I had the pleasure of visiting the Ryerson Urban Farm located on the rooftop of the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre as part of an urban geography field course I’m taking this term called Toronto’s Urban Metabolism (GGR481).

Arlene Throness, the Urban Farm Manager, led the tour and described to us the many beneficial functions green roofs perform. Green roofs reduce long-term building expenses because they have a cooling effect in the summer, while at the same time absorbing heat from concrete to lessen the urban heat effect. They extend the life of the building by forming a protective membrane, and soak up storm water to prevent flooding.

When I asked Arlene if she had any suggestions for how we might get something similar started at U of T, she noted that staffing is a huge part of ensuring the success of any urban agriculture project.  When Ryerson’s urban farm launched in 2013, they had one full time and two part time staff devoted to it. This year, they have two full time staff, and several work study students working over the summer, in addition to volunteers ranging from community members, students and researchers.

Those of us who’ve been volunteering with Dig In! Campus Agriculture for many years have long recognized the importance of staffing. Although we started as a student led initiative, just like the Ryerson Urban Farm, eventually those student leaders graduated and Hart House began to support us through the hiring of casual staff to serve as the Campus Agriculture Coordinators. These coordinators were critical in ensuring Dig In thrived over the years, and their work is documented in other sections of this website.

Unfortunately, Hart House is no longer able to support us by providing this level of staffing. It’s why we started a petition in collaboration with the Huron-Sussex Community Garden calling on U of T to fill this gap by hiring a full time, continuing Campus Agriculture Coordinator. If you would like to sign this petition, you can do so at  We’ve drafted a budget and job description which can be read here.

The other tip Arlene gave us was that it’s much easier to start a roof farm on a new building that’s constructed with a green roof rather than deal with the expense of trying to retrofit an older building with a green roof. This should be an easy task given the Toronto bylaw requiring new buildings with a larger floor area of 2,000m2 to have green roofs, and also given that new buildings are being constructed at U of T all the time and this University likes to market itself as a leader in sustainability.

IMG_6503In 2004, when the Ryerson George Vari building was built with a green roof, the roof was only planted with daylilies. Over the course of ten years, 80 species of plants grew as birds sowed dandelion, vetch, and many other seeds. Eventually, trees began to grow before the University intervened by inviting a student community garden group to start maintaining the roof as a space to grow food in what had become fertile soil. Indeed, Ryerson’s experience has shown that food grows better on the roof than it does in their ground level plots. Another benefit to being on the roof in being able to have compost piles without fear of animal pests – a concern U of T Grounds Services has consistently raised every time we’ve proposed outdoor composting near our garden plots.

The Ryerson Urban Farm soil was initially prepped for growing food through the use of sheet mulching, where a tarp was used to cover the soil for three weeks, causing the weeds to decompose and stimulating life in the soil. When the tarp was removed, they dug 18 inch wide paths, piling the soil on top of 30 inch wide row beds to increase the soil depth from 6 inches to 1 foot – deep enough for root crops. Each plot is on a five year crop rotation.

The Ryerson Urban Farm is an excellent example of how food can be ecologically grown, without pesticides and harmful fertilizers. Here, the only fertilization is from liquid seaweed, fish emulsion, and compost tea. Radishes and salad greens are produced every 21 days, and lettuce is their big cash crop. Hungry Ryerson students directly benefit from the 10,000 pounds of produce the farm produces every year, thanks to food donations made to the student emergency food bank.

Institutionally, the Ryerson Urban Farm falls under the umbrella of ancillary and food services. It connects to the community via its weekly farmers market and CSA program, whereby customers buy shares of the harvest at the beginning of the season, receiving a basket of food every week in exchange. Some of these customers volunteer to help on the farm itself via a drop-in volunteer program. Produce is also sold to the University’s food services and local restaurants, resulting in $20,000 in sales last year, and $30,000 so far this year. $5000 in income is also generated through a ten week gardening training program hosted in the Spring. The farm is able to support a fifth of its budget through these revenue streams; the remainder currently is generated through donations.

Ever since I started gardening, I’ve felt the positive mental health impacts of being around plants. Being up on the Ryerson Urban Farm was no exception – it’s why so many people love to volunteer and visit. Eating fresh, locally food grown from this roof has additional health benefits, of course. And from the perspective of a University’s core mission, the research possibilities are endless. This space is providing research opportunities that delve into the social and economic benefits of urban agriculture, not to mention scientific studies surrounding organic and biodynamic agriculture.

The Ryerson Urban Farm has been so successful, they will establish another roof farm on a building currently under construction across the street. This one will include a greenhouse. Although U of T likes to tout itself as a leader in sustainability, it seems to me when it comes to urban agriculture Ryerson has us beat. Creating a full time Campus Agriculture Coordinator position would go a long way in ensuring we’re able to catch up. Help us convince U of T this is needed by signing our petition here.

-Kristy Bard, Dig In! Campus Agriculture Volunteer and Coordinator


U of T Urban Agriculture Tour

September 18, 2017

Sky Garden. Photo by Sam Lucchetta

Tuesday, September 12th, marked the launch of Urban Agriculture Week at the University of Toronto. A week of celebrating city-grown veg and communal gardening was kicked off by a guided walking tour of several gardens on campus co-organized by Dig In! Campus Agriculture, Toronto Urban Growers, and the Huron-Sussex Community Garden. I, a novice gardener myself, tagged along to celebrate.

The event started in New College’s D.G Ivey Library, where visitors were welcome to peruse a collection of urban agriculture literature, many of the books formerly belonging to urban agriculture pioneer Jac Smit. Two gardening books were given to two lucky raffle winners. Refreshments were also provided, preparing us for the city hike ahead.

The weather was warm and the sky was clear – the perfect sort of day to enjoy a garden grown tomato. On the roof of the Galbraith Building was our first stop, The Sky Garden. Here, garden volunteers showcased the use of irrigation and hydroponics. The constant water and full-sunlight has definitely helped with growing veggies; tomato plants looked more like tomato hedges, and equally large squashes trailed their stems across the roof. The Sky Garden is also home to honey bees. We were lucky to see some of their honeycomb up close. A volunteer explained that if a queen bee comes out of her hive to confront you, then you have royally messed up.

We headed back down to land, towards the Anthropology Building. Dig In! volunteer, Kristy, showed us a small garden of herbs before taking the group to the Anthropology Greenhouse. Despite being an anthropology student myself, I never realized that the Anthropology Building had a greenhouse. The greenhouse is an almost secret place. Behind a windowless door was a room filled with humidity, sunlight, and bright green seedlings. This is Dig In!’s haven in the colder months, where seedlings are sprouted for springtime. There is a small corner dedicated to vermicomposting.

Another indoor set-up is located in the Sidney Smith building, and is run by volunteers from the Department of Geography. This garden currently functions as a hydroponic and aquaponic demo, created for the purpose of livening up the student lounge (sometimes referred to by geography students as ‘The Cave’). Main plants grown here include arugula and moss. A single, large goldfish is being housed under the moss growing platform. He/she used to have friends. Hopefully the geography students who use the room keep the fish company.

Visitors moved outside of Sid Smith, where Dig In! volunteers Don and Nelly presented the Sidney Smith Intensive Garden. Although Dig In! members have reported incidents of vegetable theft from this garden, the space still seems to be brimming with goodies. Tomatoes the colour of dark eggplants gleamed in the sun alongside squash flowers that looked like sunbursts. A wooden sign in the garden read, “DON’T STEAL, JOIN US”. Between photographing and admiring the garden, I overheard hopes of taking over the large planters by Sid Smith and incorporating them into the urban agriculture network.


Huron-Sussex Community Garden. Photo by Sam Lucchetta

From Sid Smith, the tour group was taken to the Huron-Sussex Community Garden. I was stunned by how squirrel-proofed this garden was. Netting covered several raised beds filled with veggies and flowers. Béatrice Lego, the volunteer coordinator for the Huron-Sussex garden explained that the garden functions as a ‘shared garden’. All of those who contribute to the garden’s wellbeing share a single harvest. I can imagine that this spot is ideal for hosting corn roasts, since it’s so spacious, colourful, and shaded.

The final two stops, the University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU) and Hart House gardens, are a part of Dig In’s initiatives. Don and Nelly again took to providing info on these spaces. The UTSU Garden wraps around the UTSU building and its ramp, and currently consists of squash, berries, and donated mushroom logs. The Hart House garden has unfortunately fallen victim to construction. Only the day before had I been weeding and harvesting in front of Hart House, so I was surprised to see massive test pits in the garden the day of the tour. There is still hope that some of the garden can be salvaged post-construction. The day before the tour, Dig In! volunteers harvested a bounty of carrots, chard, tomatillos, and sage from the Hart House garden. Despite the test pits, there were many self-seeded vegetables still growing comfortably (this brings to mind a common saying I keep hearing amongst long term Dig In! volunteers: “Goes to show once you start a garden, it’s easy to keep it growing.”) Visitors were invited to harvest herbs. I took chamomile, lemon balm, and mint. I brewed a tea with them later that evening. The sun was setting by the end of the tour, and thus the first day of Urban Agriculture Week came to a close.

– Sam Lucchetta, Dig In! Campus Agriculture volunteer