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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

Sept. 11 Workday & Sept. 12 Campus Garden Tour

September 7, 2017

IMG_3485We are pleased to announce the following upcoming events. Please join us!

Monday, September 11, 4 – 6 p.m.
Garden Work & Learn Day
Hart House Garden

Come learn the basics of vegetable gardening with a hands-on workshop. Practice what you learn and help to harvest. Enjoy the benefits of participating by rewarding your body while providing food for those in need. Harvests are distributed among volunteers and donated to the U of T Food Bank, Harvest Noon café and/or The Scott Mission’s Food Bank and meals program.

Meet us at the Arbor Room entrance on the south side of Hart House at 4 p.m. or soon thereafter.

Tuesday, September 12, 1:30 p.m.
Public Launch for the Urban Agriculture Network, followed by a Campus Garden Tour
New College Library, 20 Willcocks

Co-organized with Toronto Urban Growers (TUG) as part of Urban Agriculture Week Sept. 9-17

Come celebrate the Launch of Urban Agriculture week @ UofT, an exciting week of food and community building that will culminate with Mayor Tory’s announcement of September 15th as Urban Agriculture day in Toronto.

On Sept. 12, 2017, the D.G Ivey Library at New College will welcome the general public to attend an official launch of a unique and rare collection of Urban Agriculture literature. This collection was the legacy of the late urban agriculture pioneer Jac Smit and includes diverse literature from around the world.

After perusing the collection, grab some refreshments, your walking shoes and we will go on a tour of urban agriculture initiatives across the St. George campus.

Light refreshments available. Click here for further details!

Please register as soon as possible as space is limited:

Tours will include the following stops (Approx 2 hours):

1) The Sky Garden

2) The Anthropology garden and greenhouse

3) The Aquaponic demo system

4) Sydney Smith intensive garden

5) The Huron-Sussex Community garden

6) University of Toronto Student Union garden

7) Gardens at Hart House

For more information on urban agriculture day and exciting events please check the following websites:

Urban Ag Day:

Toronto Urban Growers:

Toronto Food Policy Council:

New College:

Dig In! Campus Agriculture Returns!

September 6, 2017

Strawberries, lavender, and sage transplanted to the UTSU garden this summer

But we need your help to continue.

Despite the inactivity of the Food Policy Council and the loss of Hart House garden space this past summer, long-time Dig In! volunteers have continued to garden on campus. Although a mysterious guerilla gardener planted annuals in the Hart House plot, Dig In! was informed we would lose access to the space due to upcoming construction. We were able to move our perennials (rhubarb, mint, lavender, strawberries, sage) to the UTSU Equity Garden, and had a successful garlic harvest. Although the garden has been mostly untended this year, lots of annuals from previous years self-seeded (e.g., tomatoes, kale, parsley). It goes to show that once you establish a garden, it’s easy to maintain with just a little intervention.

See below for more information about upcoming construction. We are working with Hart House to ensure at least some space remains for us to use as an herb garden post-construction.

We need your help to continue! Currently the club is being run by three long-time volunteers, only one of whom is a student (and only part-time, in her final year). We need students to take over, to get this club back to what it once was: student led – student fed! Don, Nelly, and Kristy will continue to provide mentorship, but we need students actively involved in the organization to keep it alive! We also welcome the participation of staff, faculty, and community members.

Please email us if you want to get involved or take on a more active leadership role this year.

Hart House Construction Notice

Hart House’s mandate is to provide an inclusive, accessible, safe space for all and this includes upgrading our century-old building over the next few years. We are looking to not only repair and maintain Hart House, but to create rejuvenated spaces that will help launch us into the next century.
From May to December 2017, we are in the process of refreshing the Arbor Room, the adjoining food services area and the entrance and patio on the south east side of building. Providing a fully accessible entrance to this popular location is of utmost importance. To accommodate this necessary upgrade, the adjoining garden area will need to be removed. Perennial plants from the garden have been relocated to the UTSU Equity Garden.

Over the seasons, this garden has been lovingly tended by volunteers from Dig In! Hart House has been a long-time partner of campus agriculture and we will continue to advocate the work that they do and are looking into ways to support them through our programming. 
For more information on Hart House renovations, visit

These cute sparrows are here to remind y

October 19, 2016

These cute sparrows are here to remind you to come to the UTFPC garden workday TODAY from 2-4! Meet outside Sammy`s

Garden Workday this Thursday May 12th, 2

May 10, 2016

Garden Workday this Thursday May 12th, 2:30-4pm
Meet us at the Sammy’s patio on the South side of Hart House. Dress for the weather in clothes that can get dirty, and bring gloves if you have them.
RSVP to if want to join us in the garden!

Real Food Real Jobs March this Wednesday

May 10, 2016

Real Food Real Jobs March this Wednesday!!