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Employee spotlight: Urban Farm

Spotlight

By Learn how the dedication and innovative approach of the Urban Farm lead to the production of over 10 000 pounds of food in the last growing season.

Ryerson’s Urban Farm got its start in 2011 when students from Ryerson’s Centre for Studies in Food Security worked with Campus Facilities and Sustainability (now Facilities Management and Development) to identify underutilized space on campus that could be repurposed for food growth.

Growing along with the plants

Since the outset, the project has been a multi-faculty/department initiative that bridged silos across campus. While the rooftop now operates as a market garden, the Urban Farm includes ongoing partnerships with researchers across disciplines to conduct studies.

When the farm joined University Business Services in 2013, it had one full-time and two part-time staff members. This year the team includes two full-time staff (Arlene Throness and Jayne Miles), three Career Boost workstudy students for the summer and an intern from France. The team is collecting data on the roof, tracking activities in the field and also working on marketing and sales.

“I'm amazed at what we've been able to accomplish working together, both within our team and with the support of the Ryerson community. This project is a real example of Ryerson’s commitment to innovation in action.” Arlene Throness, Urban Farm Manager

Because of the team’s dedication, hard work and innovative approach to urban farming, the farm grew 5,000 lbs of food in its first year. In the 2016 growing season, this expanded to over 10,000 lbs of food. Food grown on the farm is available for purchase at the Ryerson Market through a Community Shared Agriculture program and is also sold to Ryerson Food Services. All surplus food is donated to the Good Food Room in the student centre. It’s innovative and community-building ideas like these that led to Arlene receiving a Julia Hanigsberg Make Your Mark Staff Award this past year.

Purposeful planting for sustainability and learning

The team is now farming its ground level locations, the 10,000 square foot rooftop and an indoor greenhouse.

The team is now farming its ground level locations, the 10,000 square foot rooftop and an indoor greenhouse. With 30 crops, 100 cultivars and a five-year crop rotation, it looks like any small scale farm you’d see outside of Toronto.

The team pays special attention to garden design, growing traditional companions that have been shown to grow well together such as tomato and basil or carrots and onions. At the ground level, they’re also growing plants that support pollinators, a way to counteract how urbanization has displaced bees. As Arlene explained, “This is what’s known as ecological market gardening, which focuses on using farming as a way to build biodiversity and contribute to the local ecosystem.”

Connecting our community through agriculture

In addition to food production, the team focuses on learning and engagement. Through a number of initiatives, they work to bring food and gardening knowledge to our campus community:

  • Urban Farm tours - This summer, the team is offering ticketed tours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays that are one-hour in length.

  • Workshops and events - Topics vary and are offered by both the in-house teams and external experts in their field. This spring, the team offered both fermentation and DIY mushroom cultivation workshops.

  • Volunteers - Volunteers are invited to participate through open farm days, maintenance days and more.

The team also sets examples that amateur urban farmers can model in their work. For example, the ground level gardens in the Pitman Quad include sub-irrigated planters, modeling a perfect option for Toronto balconies as they only require watering once per week.

What began as a student initiative in 2011 has grown into an integral part of University Business Services. As green roofs become more common across the university (a 2009 Toronto bylaw mandates all new buildings over 2000 square feet and six storeys or taller include a green roof) the team hopes to continue to set the bar for growth. “As a university, we’re uniquely positioned to develop best practices for this relatively new and growing industry.” (Pun intended.)

The team in their own words

Members of the Urban Farm team share what they like about working at Ryerson.

Agathe Chauvin

Volunteer Coordinator, Visiting Intern from AgroParisTech, France

I believe that learning how to grow food is important for food security. It's been really meaningful for me to be able understand each step in the growing season and gain practical skills in food production.

Jayne Miles

Programs Coordinator

I enjoy connecting with a broad cross-section of the Ryerson community through programming that builds awareness of ecological processes and provides hands-on skill building opportunities in urban agriculture.

Kate Davies

Communications Coordinator, Career Boost student from Environmental Biology

I think that Ryerson Urban Farm is an example of a great way to make Toronto a more sustainable city. I like being part of a community that produces local food, increases green space and nurtures life and biodiversity.

Saba Zubair

Data Coordinator, Career Boost Student from Business Management

My work is important to me because I know even the most difficult and/or mundane tasks on the Urban Farm are making a difference on Earth. Conventional farming destroys while ecological farming restores. I'm proud to be part of Toronto's only Urban Farm.

Terri-Lin Zhou

Data Coordinator, Career Boost Student from Nutrition and Food

I really love working at Ryerson’s Urban Farm because it goes hand-in-hand with my passion for food and nutrition! Being a part of this team not only gives me the opportunity to learn about growing foods sustainably, but makes me appreciate food more as well.