Youth Participants in the Urban Farming Exchange

Nairobi Initial Thoughts

In January 2012, Rooftops Canada ( in partnership with the Mazingira Institute ( hosted a youth exchange in Nairobi, Kenya. As part of my involvement in the local food and urban agriculture movement in Toronto, I was invited, along YUF CSA ( Co-founder Elaine to represent the Toronto delegation. Two youth representatives (Tasco and Kangela) were invited from Cape Town, South Africa, 5 youth (John, James, Shadrack, Eunice, and Harrison) were invited from Nakuru, Kenya and the NACHU organization ( and about a dozen local Nairobi youth were invited to participate as well.

The goal of the program is for the youth (broadly defined as under 35) to share their ideas and experiences from each of our respective cities on urban agriculture and food security issues.

The program began with an introduction from Mazingira Institute, the host organization for the exchange. Introductions were made, an overview of the purpose and context of the trip was made and the rest of the day was spent with introductory presentations by the majority of the participants.

The main programming got started on the second day with a visit to Ndoso Farm, a peri-urban farm run by an enthusiastic and passionate Ndungi Ngogi. At his farm, he grows a variety of vegetables in greenhouses including some of the best peppers I’ve ever tasted. He also grows other fruit, vegetables, and raises fish on his property as well.

Elaine and I gave a presentation on making compost tea, as well as using worm castings to build the soil. Ndungi does a great job of composting using a variety of methods and that is one of his secrets to the success of his garden. He also gave a presentation on another method of composting using grubs, specifically the grubs/larvae of the black soldier fly.

In the afternoon, we went to another of Ndungi’s farms – this one a livestock farm that raises chickens and pigs. It was incredible to see how healthy the animals were, especially with Ndungi using organic methods for all of his activities.

The third day was spent primarily at Mr Rabbit’s Farm. While that isn’t his actual name, it is a nickname he likes to carry around with him. Before arriving at the farm though, we made two detours. The first was to H-Garden which is located in the second largest slum area in Nairobi. At this location, one of the youth leaders Humphrey “grabbed the land” and setup a garden to work with the youth in this area. The local authorities turned a blind eye because they see his project as benefitting the community, even though they don’t have official papers for the land. It was incredible to see a number of sack gardens, as well as rabbits and pigeons being kept on a tiny piece of land.

chili peppers grown in an upcycled tire
rabbits at H-Town Garden

We also had a short visit and interview with KOCH FM, a local radio station run by youth and broadcasting to just a small area in another ghetto area of Nairobi. The entire operation is run out of an repurposed shipping container, complete with an office and sound-proof studio for their broadcasting. To see this local project in action, essentially using just a computer and a microphone was a humbling experience to see how much can be done with so little.

When we finally got to Mr Rabbit’s farm, we had a tour around his property. We had a chance to see how they make their own compost, how they utilize a farming methodology called moist bed gardening, how to butcher a rabbit, enjoy sucking on fresh sugar cane, and see a larger scale rabbit operation.

Sunday, day 4, was a rest day, and a bunch of us spent some the afternoon at a local swimming pool for some much needed R&R.

On Monday, we continued our farm excursions to two local places. The focus was on value-added products and we first stopped at a local place that manufactured toys using recycled plastic. Using just two small buildings, they sort, melt, and mold recycled plastic into some really nice toys. It looked like they also had a bunch of corn growing in a back lot as well. We finished the day at Esther’s farm which is another peri-urban farm in a new suburb of Nairobi. Here, we had a chance to have a few hands-on demonstrations of how to make yogurt, how to make peanut butter (using either dry roasted peanuts or fried peanuts), and how to make mango jam. The peanut butter and mango jam were some of the best I’ve ever had! Esther has what we would consider to be a cottage industry that takes.

That’s all for this update. Look for more pictures and posts as the exchange continues.

November 2009 Reflections

November has been an interesting and intriguing month. And while I’d like to think that things aren’t as busy for me with as we’ve wrapped up our growing season for the year, my schedule still seems to be filled with things to do. And honestly, I enjoy having a busy schedule, though it’s never too busy that I don’t have time for friends and people who matter in my life. Now, on to the main monthly recap:

1. Volunteer Fairs
At the beginning of the month, I participated in two volunteer fairs at UT Scarborough and UT St. George. The purpose was to recruit volunteers for our non-profit enterprise Young Urban Farmers CSA for all aspects of our organization for the growing season of 2010 including sales and marketing, public relations, finance and accounting, operations, and more. We had a great turnout, though the UT Scarborough turnout seemed much better than the St. George one, and it was wonderful to see so many students who are motivated and interested in volunteering for a good cause.

2. Joe/Christina’s Wedding
Congratulations to Joe and Christina, who recently started a new life together. It was a pleasure to celebrate this memorable event with you, and hope you enjoy what I think is one of the most awesome wedding gifts ever. A number of us pooled our funds together to get the new couple a 15′ canoe, with a couple of paddles and life jackets to boot. The greatest moment – walking down the church aisle with the canoe to present it to them after the wedding ceremony and seeing the look on their faces. It was brilliant.

3. Guelph Urban Agriculture Symposium
Also this month, I had the chance to attend an Urban Agriculture Symposium in Guelph. It was a great chance to meet other people involved with urban agriculture, who are interested in local and sustainable food, and a chance to see what other people are doing in this emerging field.

4. Toronto Community Garden Network strategic planning event
Continuing on with the networking events, the day after the urban agriculture symposium was a strategic planning event for the Toronto Community Garden Network – a group that is made up of interested and energetic individuals and organizations from across Toronto who are committed to greening and organic gardening across the City of Toronto and to making community gardening an integral part of city life. Again, it was another opportunity to get involved in the local community, meet interesting people, and hopefully contribute some ideas and suggestions to the group.

5. Betterment Movement Toronto
The last networking event that I went to was a last minute decision, but I’m glad that I went. Somehow I heard about this event called the Betterment Movement Toronto. It billed it self as an opportunity to “Hear the stories of people in action, making the world a better place!” And it was indeed inspiring and a great chance to meet a bunch of designers, as the organization who put this together was originally a community of designers.

6. Potluck Parties
Potluck parties are one of my favourite types of parties. You get to eat a variety of foods, participate in some fun activities (we played this board game called Bang!), and spend an evening with a group of fun people. I ended up making a chocolate pudding, which turned out much better than I had originally thought it would. Despite burning the milk (just a bit) and not having fresh mint (it was supposed to be a mint chocolate pudding), it still turned out great, with people asking for the recipe afterwards. Maybe my secret weapon/ingredient of burnt milk (though you couldn’t taste even a hint of it) made it that much more tasty…….. And if you want that recipe – honestly it’s a good recipe – you can find it here.

In looking back at this past month, a couple of things come to mind. The first is that I’m grateful for all the people who have and who continually enrich my life. As much as I try to stay connected in the online world, life is best lived in the real world and it is these friendships and reationships that you make and experiences that you share with people that really matter and gives life that personal touch. Life is full of ups and downs, and having friends who can be there in good times and bad is essential. I think this was heightened by the number of networking events that I went to, and while I know that many people feel jaded and put off by these kinds of things, I think if you go in with an attitude of exploration, wonder, and open to opportunities, you’ll never know who you’ll meet, what you’ll learn, and where it will take you.

This reminds me of a quote by Shunryu Suzuki which goes like this:
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.

The other thing that I think defined my November was that it was a month of learning. I’m not perfect by any means, and don’t pretend or try to be. And so with the idea of approaching things from a beginner’s mind, I was able to try to look at things from a more objective perspective, think critically about what worked and what didn’t work, and how to improve on things. For example, we’ve been on campus recruiting for potential franchisees for our business, and our initial efforts were relatively weak. We tried a bunch of things, and realized that it wasn’t working too well and so we modified our actions, and saw better results the subsequent times we went recruiting. Learning can come from both success and failure, though I think it is in failure that we learn the most. Sure it hurts to fail, it hurts to feel rejected, and it’s hard to stay motivated, but it is in these times when our character gets tested that we experience the most growth and learning.

If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative
– Woody Allen –

Looking forward, December is going to be a joyful month, with the holiday celebrations getting into full swing. I’ll be taking some time to do an annual review, some in-depth goal setting, and just enjoying this time of year. So cheers to the holiday season and may it be filled with love, joy and happiness.


A Long Overdue Homecoming!

homecomingGreetings everyone from Toronto!

I am happy to say that me (and all my luggage) are now safe and sound back home in Toronto! After a month of traveling in India and another month and a half after that in Europe, it’s good to be home. And while it’s almost impossible to sum up all my experiences and adventures in a single email, I’ll highlight a few of my favourite moments from the various places that I went to.

Cherrapunjee, India:
This is a place that I will forever be talking about because of so many great experiences that I had here. Advertised as an eco-tourism destination, we had a chance to see several incredible living root bridges and go caving in the wettest place on Earth (the city holds 2 Guinness World Records).

Barcelona, Spain:
This city was full of amazing sights and cool people. From the Picasso museum to the architectural wonders of Gaudi, I had a really good time in the city, and the nightlife was a blast too!

Interlaken, Switzerland:
Did you know that the world’s longest sled run is in Switzerland and is 15km long?! And though we didn’t go down the longest one because that would’ve involved a 2.5 hours hike up to the starting point after you get off from the top of the chairlift, we did go down another really, really, long one that was super fun and a real adrenaline rush!

Vienna, Austria:
2 operas in 3 nights, including a 5 hour Wagner opera with standing room tickets! A little crazy….yes, feet a little sore at the end of the night…you bet, but worth the experience…definitely!

Berlin, German:
Besides seeing the remains of the Berlin wall and some cool museums, Berlin offered us a unique and exquisite culinary experience at a restaurant called Unsicht-Bar. After ordering your food from a poetic sounding menu, you’re led into a pitch black room where you are seated, are served, and enjoy your food without being able to see a thing! And as the food comes and goes, your taste buds are stretched as you try to identify exactly what it is you are eating. And yes, you do get to see the “answer card” to know what it was you were putting in your mouth over the past hour or so of dining. And yes, you can get some surprises, like bull’s tongue in my sister’s “surprise” menu.