Urban Agriculture Summit Blog Summit Sprouts Urban Agriculture BLOG


From around the world, we met in Toronto during the hot dry summer of 2012 to do some companion planting at an Urban Agriculture Summit. We leave as partners, working together to make urban food production and green infrastructure a growing force.

Too many governments still divide and separate food, water, shelter, health, energy, education, waste, transit, community and economics. The movement for good food, green buildings and great cities rooftop

brings together community economic developers, building developers, gardeners, designers, landscapers, architects, farmers and food justice advocates to encourage collaboration.

We will find new ways to grow food as part of the built environment -- in unlikely spaces, from backyards, school grounds and balconies to walls and rooftops; and in unusual ways, from raised beds in pocket parks to containers on boulevards to aquaponic and hydroponic installations on parking arcades. We will engineer landscapes and gardens that can deliver food plus services plus urban “ecosystem benefits.”

We will design buildings, structures and landscapes that cleanse water, refresh air, recycle wastes, regulate temperature, add beauty and welcome back natural processes into the fabric of cities. We will chart new ways of personalizing, learning, sharing, buying, selling, making and celebrating local and sustainable food. We will integrate plans for food and buildings that produce health, educate youth, empower communities, provide healing, integrate art, promote equity, foster diversity, protect habitat, conserve energy, create new jobs and revenues, ensure safe, secure and resilient food systems, and improve relations with all food producers. We will grow many things, including our own capacity to work with new issues, benefactors, beneficiaries, partners and renewed imagination.

We have found the growth industry of the future, and it is us. Beyond urban agriculture and smart, green infrastructure, we will cultivate urbaculture for the coming urban century.

We help urbaculture take root when we:

• Champion official plans, food charters and sustainability strategies to build support

• Sponsor municipal food policy councils to link new partners

• Establish urban agriculture offices in local and regional governments to get growing

• Adopt green roof bylaws to start food and green buildings at the top

• Grant tomorrow’s green buildings and landscapes the same government support now monopolized by yesterday’s “grey” infrastructure

• Offer youth a culture of activity and engaging curriculum to grow up with food and environment

• Scale up recycling of water, packaging, and community composting of food and lawn wastes

• Promote citizen engagement, equity and diversity in project planning and leadership


Debbie Field, FoodShare; Steven Peck, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities; Wayne Roberts, Urban Ag Summit ambassador; Fiona Yeudall, Ryerson University; Lauren Baker, Toronto Food Policy Council

FOR MORE INFO,CONTACT US AT This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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We never promised you a rose garden. But we did promise you a Manipesto. We hope we'll work on key ideas throughout the conference with Twitter posts. Then, at a Friday session, we'll meet as a group and add ideas. A committee will work with all the ideas and release something ASAP after the conference. It might be called the Toronto Manipesto on Urban Ag. I t will be short, about 1 page. Half the page will be introduction. Half the page will be bulleted suggestions. Here is one way of thinking about the introduction. 


Five billion of us will soon live in cities spread across a world of 9 billion people.

It will be crowded, but we will survive and thrive in harmony with all creatures on this tiny planet, because we will reinvent the way we build energy systems, homes and offices, transit systems and food systems so they relate better to natural systems and to our own human needs for health and education and relationships and meaning.

This is what we are working on when we gather in Toronto for an Urban Agriculture Summit during this long, hot and parched summer of 2012. We are proud to be in a city of so many cultures and peoples, and we look forward to sharing ideas with others around the world.

We know that food systems of the future must be both more humane and more natural. That means growing more of our food locally, which in turn means growing more of our food in and close to cities, where gardens not only feed us but help us address issues of turning wastes into resources, of using plants as cleaners and scrubbers and filters and beautifiers and homes for pollinators as well as foods for us. We will work on new technologies and designs that help us do that, which is why we promote green roofs and green walls and living machines and community composting as well as balcony gardens and community gardens and solar greenhouses and aquaponics and backyard gardens. These will all be integrated in the city of the future, which will too crowded for technologies and specialties that do only one thing. The urban food revovlution will be much more than garden variety urban agriculture. It will be whole nine yards-scale urbaculture.

Get used to the word "and." The list of our ideas and suggestions is a long one, because this movement is about including everyone and creativity and engagement for growers and artisans and chefs and designers and cooks and servers. The food revolution will not be consumed, but produced.

Here are some of the next steps our cast of thousands will be doing to grow the city of the future. We ask you to join us and urge you to outgrow us. Give us a hand. Add your own "and"

- Wayne Roberts


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Wayne Roberts - Urban Agriculture Summit Manipesto

August 6, 2012-


This is called the Urban Ag Summit, not the Urban Ag Conference, for a reason. It’s designed for breakthrough changes that will come out of it. We would like to celebrate the upcoming changes we plan to make and ask others to join us. To do that kind of avant gardener thing, we need a manipesto.

We’re asking Sumiteers to come to the summit with some ideas of what should go into that manipesto.

Like a pointed root vegetable, the manipesto will have to be short above the ground(two pages at the utmost most) but deep in the thinking it taps into.

It will announce that we’re going beyond garden variety urban ag. We’re talking livestock as well as plants. More important, we’re not just talking about food anymore. We’re talking infrastructure and design waynerobetsand city beautification, not just food. Green roofs do so much more than grow food. School gardens do so much more than provide nibblies for school lunches. Back yard gardens can feed butterflies and bees and birds, and do a lot for the birds and bees of the food system in that way. Community gardens make parks safe and lively. Most plants need good lighting and we intend to give the indirect benefits of urban ag all the benefits of the broad light of day.

And once we set out the benefits, we want investment that allows these benefits to flourish. We want the same public support for this as is given to any other infrastructure projects. We’re talking about a new meaning for economic growth, based on gardening-style growth that’s good for people and the environment as well as the economy.

It’s time these ideas had a chance to blossom. Where better than at an Urban Ag Summit.

Let the feedback begin. Post your thoughts and say what you’d like to see in a Summit manipesto on the Urban Ag Summit facebook page.

Keep posting throughout the conference click here so other participants know what ideas are going around. We’ll hold a final session to decide what ideas and messages are priorities and think about the best way to convey these ideas and messages. Then we’ll give a team of writers and conference authorities authorization to turn these decisions into a manipesto in time to celebrate the fall harvest.

Dig in.

-Wayne Roberts, Canadian Food Policy Analyst and Writer

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What the Cluck?

August 1, 2012 - I'm one of a rather renegade group of people who engage in an illegal activity that arouses a lot of emotion, both pro and con. Unlike many things that are illegal, our activity doesn't hurt anyone; indeed. we consider that what we do is nurturing. Yet most of us keep it clandestine, in order not to attract unwelcome attention from the authorities.


I, on the other hand, perhaps recklessly, will be going public at the upcoming Urban Agriculture Summit. I will be sharing my story of what it's like to keep backyard hens in the city.

People tend to have very strong opinions on the question of whether or not chickens belong in the urban environment. Some people object out of fear--fear that chickens are noisy, smelly and attract rodents. Some people are concerned about animal welfare--worried that widespread urban chicken-keeping will lead to animal cruelty. Others have a gut-level objection, believing that, well, chickens simply have no place in the modern city, end of discussion.

I'm looking forward to confronting these concerns head-on. And I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences of keeping urban backyard hens over the years. My hens have given me a lot of pleasure, with their playful antics and, of course, their eggs. Just as importantly, I feel happy about the good life I've provided for them.

I'm hoping that by telling my story--including the challenges--I will be encouraging others to consider chickens as having an important role to play in urban agriculture. And I'm hoping that there are no bylaw officers in the audience...

-Lorraine Johnson, Author

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Can Cities Feed Themselves?

August 13, 2012 - Can Cities Feed Themselves? Not presently but the potential is definitely there. Four years ago I ask three students enrolled in the Masters of Public Policy at U of T to conduct a theoretical study of the costs and benefits of substituting Toronto's 29 million kilograms of imported food with food grown, hypothetically on the Cities' 50 million square feet of green roofable rooftops.

The data for the study included the Ryerson Green Roof Benefit Study for the City of Toronto, Industry Canada Trade Data, Stats Canada and research on rooftop agriculture from the 14 crops being grown on the roof of Trent University in Peterborough.

The students extrapolated yields from the Trent University Green Roof Farm (18 inches of growing medium) to 75 the 50 million square meters of green roofable area in Toronto. Then the calculated the costs and benefits of this widespread rooftop farming scenario in detail. They factored in growing media, seeds, water, labour fertilizer etc. What was not factored in was guard rails and several other costs. Intensive green roof ag initial capital costs for 50 million square meters is in the order of 6 billion dollars - the price of a handful of advance fighter jets.

Annual maintenance costs including labour, water, fertilizer are in the order of 1.6 billion dollars.torontoart

The value of the expected yields of beans, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, dry onions, tomatoes and peppers is 1.7 billion dollars.

A slight profit over operating costs of about 80 million. But wait - there are many other benefits associated with cultivating 50 million square meters of roofs. These include a reduction of the urban heat island saving over 10 million annually on Air Conditioning and reducing smog and related hospitalization costs for people, energy savings, improved stormwater resulting in less flooding and better water quality, community health and well being,improved food security, better access to food and import substitution benefits like more green jobs.

55 per cent of Toronto's food imports are from the U.S. and 29 million kgs of the produce analyzed comes from the U.S. annually. For every kg of imported produce, an estimated .5 kilograms of CO2 emissions are released (from transportation). Imported produce identified above accounts for an estimated 14.9 million kilograms of GHG emissions, not to mention other air pollutants generated from all that trucking.

At the 2012 Urban Agriculture Summit in Toronto Aug 15 - 18 we will learn how leaders in the field are designing food production into high end condos, running commercial farms on rooftops and integrating community gardens into schools and social housing.

All of these activities and more are moving theory into practice. Don't miss the next wave of sustainable practice - urban agriculture!

-Steven Peck, Founder and President, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities

Thanks to: S. McDonald, K Norman, and N. Damsbaek for "Rooftop Food Production in the City of Toronto: Technologies, Issues and Opportunities."    

Image taken from: http://www.designrunway.ca/2010/12/piecing-back-torontos-skyline.html

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Why City Farming?

freshcityfarms mdJuly 27, 2012 - At Fresh City, we are often asked why we do what we do. We usually respond with our mission statement -- to bring makers and eaters together. But a mission doesn't really tell you the why, it tells you the how. And the why is what ultimately gets you up in the morning.

Why are we spending so much time and money trying to forge a commercially viable model for city farming? As an organization, we sat down to answer this question very early on. And at the end of the day, the crux of our inner fires was this -- we wanted to respect life, both future and present. That may seem rather abstract and, to some, perhaps rather corny, but that's where the initial thrust came from for us.

How did we go from wanting to 'respect life' to our mission statement? Why bring makers and eaters closer together? We believe its the vast distance between makers and eaters that is one of the chief winds blowing our food system into the dire storm it currently finds itself in. We have lost any connection to the land, to how food is made and to who makes our food. That which we know not, we value not, we respect not. It's hard to yearn for artisanship in food making, when one has never met an artisan or seen her art.

And this is where city farming comes in -- it's perhaps the most positive, sensory-laden, human way we can connect people with real food and its joys given the way the world is. At Fresh City, we are celebrating the city and all it entails -- diversity, opportunity, cosmopolitanism -- while trying to chip away at the alienation from and commodification of food that its proliferation has created. You simply cannot replace a whiff of lavender, a sunflower's glow at sunset, boots weighed down with rich-soil mud, an August tomato's dribble down your chin or the calloused handshake of a farmer. This is the stuff of the childhood memories and, hopefully, of the moment that changes how you think about how you eat or even the world and it's environmental challenges.

We, as a society, will certainly not wrest control over the food system from the large national retailers by outspending them or by fashioning even more flawless supply chains. The only way our food system will fundamentally change is by nourishing a constituency to the point of critical mass. This critical mass will act not only as consumers, but more importantly as citizens. The prospect of that is certainly worth getting up for every morning.

Happily, we are not the only ones that think so -- there is a burgeoning city farming movement afoot. And in August, some of the leading practitioners and thought leaders of the movement is coming to Toronto in the form of the Urban Agriculture Summit. Come learn more about Fresh City and other amazing initiatives around the world and meet the people trying to change the world, one seed, one yard, one city at a time.

-Ran Goel, Co-Founder, Fresh City Farms


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Connecting Urban Agriculture Enthusiasts - The Summit and ExtraShare


extrashare logo

July 19 - With the increased rate of participation in urban agriculture-related activities in North America over the past decade, a need has grown for tools and events for those "working in the field". There was a lot of excitement when ExtraShare was invited to deliver at The Summit, partly due to the fantastic lineup of presenters, but especially because of the great potential to learn, teach and network that lies at the heart of both projects.

ExtraShare is a web application that empowers growing communities by giving them a means to map and profile their agricultural operations. It helps by delivering location-based data, diverting what would otherwise be garden "waste", and provides a forum for crowd-sourced advice. While ExtraShare development has progressed over the past eight months, it's become obvious that urban agriculturalists love two things: growing more than enough seedlings and distributing their surplus garden yield! Forming hubs in the areas we live, for reducing waste, composting organic matter, etc., is becoming an important to-do.

And The Urban Agriculture Summit creates such a hub. By assembling minds and workers from the industry into one place, it helps them share best practices and drive forward innovation. There are a great deal of presentations, workshops and tours over the course of the four-day event, and the group of participants is very diverse! If you work on agricultural technologies, are an active grower, or even just interested in learning more and getting started, I invite you to join me at The Summit in August. Register online before tickets run out!

by Paolo Granelli, Founder of ExtraShare.org

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Big Vision, Little Plans, New Icons

SPIN logo

July 16 - Planners and designers like to be guided by Daniel Burnham’s “make no little plans”, but the Urban Agriculture Summit is an opportunity to follow a different mantra.

As the organizers of the Urban Agriculture Summit are aware, many of the problems and unease with our food system are caused by the geographical separation between where we produce our food and where we live and work, and it can be alleviated by integrating agriculture into cities and towns. Making commercial food production compatible with densely populated areas requires thinking and farming on a different scale than we are used to.

Small scale farming is not new, but the term is not definitive. It can mean a few acres, or a few thousand acres. For farming to find its true place in the first urbanized century, it needs to become sub-acre in scale and accessible to many more people.

SPIN, which stands for s-mall p-lot in-tensive, is a farming system designed specifically for sub-acre land bases. Developed by Canadian farmer Wally Satzewich a dozen years ago, it is non-technical, easy-to-understand, inexpensive to implement, and makes it possible to earn significant income from land bases under an acre in size. It is now being practiced widely throughout the US and Canada by those with no farming background and who may not have grown up ever connected to the land.

SPIN’s growing techniques are not, in themselves, breakthrough. What is novel is the way a SPIN farm business is designed, implemented and run. The basics of the system are explained in the first seven guides in the SPIN-Farming learning series. They contain everything you’d expect from a good franchise: a business concept, marketing advice, financial benchmarks and a detailed day-to-day workflow. In standardizing the system and creating a reproducible process, it really isn’t any different from McDonald’s. While most other farming systems focus primarily if not exclusively on agricultural practices, SPIN emphasizes the business aspects and provides a financial and management framework for having the business drive the agriculture, rather than the other way around.

Wally’s farm is comprised of scattered plots in and around his home base of Saskatoon, SK. The number of plots have ranged from 25 to 11, with a land base that never totals much more than 2/3 of an acre, or around 30,000 square feet. Plots have come and gone, depending on various circumstances, but the point is that SPIN farmers make cropland wherever they happen to be. This multi-locational urban/peri-urban farming model is explained in the Dig Deeper guide # 2 in the SPIN online learning series.

Farmsteads passed down through generations, and farmers devotedly tending the same plot of land for their entire lifetimes are deeply rooted icons. But believing that farming has to be tied forever to a specific place belies its dynamic nature. Farming is ever-changing, highly adaptive and can adjust quickly to changing development patterns, and SPIN-Farming exemplifies this.

As the co-author of the SPIN-Farming learning series along with Wally, I invite you to attend the half day SPIN-Farming workshop led by Curtis Stone, who is owner/operator of Green City Acres, a third year pedal-powered SPIN farm in Kelowna BC, on Wed. Aug. 15. Then go out and use the SPIN-Farming system in your projects.

Thanks to the lead organizers Green Roofs for Healthy Cities and FoodShare, as well as the many sponsors, the Urban Agriculture Summit represents a big idea. May it also result in many little plans that, like SPIN farms, will be implemented quickly, manageably, affordably and profitably, and that, collectively, will help create the farming icons that this time and place will be known by.

-- Roxanne Christensen, Co-author, SPIN-Farming®


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Urban Agriculture - The Future

ECOSOURCE mdJuly 12, 2012 - Urban Agriculture is the hottest new development in sustainable cities and social enterprise. It combines social need, tapping into a large pool of volunteer and paid labour. It makes the most of under-utilized forgotten spaces, like rooftops, walls and derelict lands. It responds to existing and growing demands for fresh, organic and high quality food. It delivers a wide range of environmental benefits - like reducing transportation related air pollution and greenhouse gases - and makes take advantage of abundant compost, captured rain water, and waste heat. It helps cities reduce the urban heat island effect that drives up energy costs and fouls the air, and it can manage stormwater which pollutes our streams and lakes.

The sheer scale of urban agriculture activities and the passion behind them is impressive and growing - from personal container gardens on condo balconies and community gardens, to commercial roof top farms and futuristic vertical farms that are yet to be built. Urban agriculture delivers much needed food for the needy and disadvantaged and the well-heeled in our cities. Food production restores community and in so doing restores health.

The potential of urban agriculture to deliver these many, multiple benefits and reduce our communities' reliance on far-flung, unsustainable agriculture practices is tremendous. We are going to celebrate, share and advance the agenda significantly in Toronto this August. Just take a look at the scope and depth of the training and conference presentations. New business models, policy tools, technologies, plans and products … it’s all there!

I hope that this, the Inaugural Urban Agriculture Summit, will blow people's minds, satisfy their senses and provide additional energy, skills and knowledge for even greater future pursuits!

by Steven Peck, Founder & President of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities and Green Infrastructure Enthusiast!

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The Daniels Corporation - Urban Agriculture Story

June 15, 2012 - Torontonians are returning to their roots, literally. The eyes of the world are watching the massive transformation taking place in Regent Park, and at the heart of the largest revitalization of a city core in North America lies a green revolution.

Daniels logo190As partners in the revitalization, The Daniels Corporation and Toronto Community Housing are excited to take first steps in creating a local food system. Food is a common interest that is shared regardless of economic or social background. For this reason, the Regent Park Food Partnership was created comprised of community organizations and Foodshare Toronto (www.foodshare.net).

foodshare190FoodShare is a non-profit community food organization with decades of experience facilitating community gardens and urban agriculture programs on design issues.

As a new chapter in this community, the Regent Park Food Partnership will increase residents’ access to local, fresh food in addition to expanded hands-on educational programs through the creation of a greenhouse, community oven, community gardens and farmers’ markets in the new six-acre community park.

A trailblazer in the Regent Park Urban Agriculture strategy, The Daniels Corporation collaborated with Dixon Hall Mill Centre (http://www.dixonhall.org ), a non-profit agency that teaches at risk youth carpentry skills, to create balcony planter boxes for residents at OnePark West Condominiums. Following move-in, Daniels and Foodshare facilitated a hands-on planting workshop in which residents left with the resources and knowledge they need to get started in the urban agriculture world.

The Daniels Corporation is also committed to incorporating urban agriculture initiatives such as rooftop and community gardens, edible landscaping and greenhouses to all of their new home communities across the GTA.  For more information on Daniels new home communities across the GTA visit www.danielshomes.ca.

Daniels invites colleagues in the design, development and facilities management fields to join them in August at the Urban Agriculture Summit, where Daniels' Vice President Martin Blake will participate in a thought leaders discussion on urban agriculture and development. Register now at www.urbanagsummit.org

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2012 Urban Agriculture Summit: The Whole Nine Yards

Everything you thought you knew about urban agriculture is about to change…

This August, leading Toronto growers of food and living green infrastructure are hosting next-generation thinkers, designers and food producers who are seeding tomorrow’s urban agriculture….and it won’t be the garden variety urban agriculture you think you already know about.


We’re talking living infrastructure, antidotes to nature deficit disorder and oases for mental health, social wellbeing and economic vitality, regeneration, beautification and gentrification where neighborhoods matter, multi-functional food principles, food forests, cradle to cradle, the brown revolution – the whole nine yards.

Think outside the box, the planter and even the garden. We’re out to urbanize the functions and style of growing food and other living things. We’re not about just growing food in the city. We’re out to grow neighborhoods, cities, greenery, citizen skills, people power.

The formal conference will feature plenaries of leading edge thinkers and implementers from four continents. Distinct streams of workshops will meet all your information and participation needs. Whether you like or need more policy, design, theory, hands-on skills for gardening in yards, gardening on rooftops, beekeeping, forest management, livestock, how-to skills for businesses, agencies and community groups, you’ll have things to take home. These sessions are guaranteed to go to seed. Check out the sessions here.

Before the conference, enjoy a variety of tours of Toronto projects that have put the city and its citizens at the forefront of the international food scene. If you want to shout from the rooftops, be sure to come a day early. Check out the options here.

Register Now. And check back here regularly to keep up with the latest.

Toronto food expert Wayne Roberts is the former manager of the Toronto Food Policy Council.

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