From August 15-18, the city of Toronto hosted the first international Urban Agriculture Summit, presented by Foodshare and Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. The summit featured close to 500 participants from around the world, including keynote speakers by Will Allen of Growing Power, Paul Lightfoot of BrightFarms, leaders from the Cuban urban agriculture movement, leaders in the green roof industry, architects, urban planners, community activists, and many more.
Of the many highlights of the conference was the keynote speech by Will Allen. His mantra is that growing is all about the soil, and if you can grow your own soil, you can grow your own food. To that end, he talked about the worm composting, windrow piles, grub composting, and aenerobic digester that form the foundation of all of their growing projects. Using this compost, they literally build the soil right on top of asphalt, concrete, or any other flat and sunny surface for their growing projects. They convert things like parking lots, basketball courts, and abandoned lots into prime growing spaces that engage, inspire, and empower the community. He ended by showing the designs for a vertical farm that is in the works that will really maximize the horizontal and vertical growing space they have available.
In addition to the keynote speakers, there were 5 concurrent sessions spread across the two days, each with 6 different sessions based around the themes of Community Building and Social Housing, Design and Infrastructure, Social Enterprise and Business Development, How To Skills & Technology, Ecology and Landscape, and Planning and Policy. I found the sessions on commercial rooftop agriculture, lessons learned from Cuba, and eating ecologies/foraging to be especially informative and valuable.
Finally, specialized professional development courses, skills training workshops and field trips were offered to further solidify the knowledge gained throughout the conference. These included sessions on cold frames, composting, container gardening, and tours to local urban farms and schoolyards.
To give a recap of the conference without talking about the food would be impossible. And like most food-related conferences, the food did not disappoint. The opening garden party, hosted at Foodshare’s head office featured a variety of dishes “with a special spotlight on traditional First Nations’ dishes and produce grown in the organization’s urban agriculture projects.” These included bison tongue pierogies, mixed bean salad, and a wild rice maple syrup and blueberry dish as well.
I believe this urban agriculture summit will serve as a catalyst for all practitioners to work on bringing urban agriculture even more to the mainstream and inspire all those involved to continue working to make a difference in all of the communities we work in. Food touches so many aspects of our lives and urban agriculture can be one of the many steps we take in ensuring we have a secure, healthy, and just food system.