Last fall, Andrew and Valerie Pringle paid a visit to the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre and took a stroll through the rooftop farm that bears their name. Since 2004, the Pringles had been the green roof’s major private sponsors, but this was the first time they had seen it since the Andrew and Valerie Pringle Environmental Green Roof had become an urban farm.
“I hadn’t seen it for quite a few years, and we were absolutely blown away at how amazing it was, what a great idea it was, and how well done it was,” said Pringle, a Ryerson graduate best known as the former host of CTV’s Canada AM. “We’re proud of what it’s become, which is something we’d never envisaged. It’s just so much better. But that’s the classic thing with Ryerson: if you get students involved, they’ll just make everything better.”
So taken were the Pringles with what they discovered on the roof, they wanted to share the bounty: In two weeks, they’ll host at the urban farm the first in a series of hands-on evenings called "Up on the Roof," to raise money to sustain the rooftop garden.
In the middle of the biggest city in Canada, the Ryerson Urban Farm (formerly Rye’s HomeGrown) is entering year four of operations. A student-run initiative to grow fresh food on campus, the farm provided 8,000 lbs of fresh, organic, local produce to campus kitchens, the Ryerson Farmer’s Market, and agencies like the Community Food Room in 2015. It has also helped foster a deeper understanding of urban agriculture issues in the broader community: more than 1,000 people have visited the farm through tours, workshops and volunteer events in the last four years.
“When it first went in, I went up to look at it and it was originally just planted with daylilies, but it was a nice green space,” said Pringle. “It was a student-led idea: ‘Let’s do more than just plant daylilies; let’s do something with urban agriculture.’”
“In addition to local food being better for the environment and the economy, it also just tastes better,” said Arlene Throness, urban agriculture co-ordinator for the Urban Farm. “The food is ripe on the vine. You support your local food system, but you also get to have the freshest and sweetest, because it didn’t have to be transported. It has more flavour and more nutrition, and we can also grow a much wider variety of vegetables that don’t travel well.”
The farm has also provided welcome respite from the concrete jungle for its volunteers, including Myra Lefkowitz, manager of Workplace Wellbeing Services at Ryerson. “It’s been so much more than I even expected,” she said. “Spending time up there, it’s like being in an oasis in the middle of the city. They say that being in green space helps one’s mental health. This is a lived experience of that.”
She added, “The group that I worked with, we really came to enjoy spending time together. And there’s just something about planting a seed and tending it as it grows, and then harvesting the food, and then putting the garden to bed that’s very rewarding.”
“We have a lot of students and staff who volunteer even in their busiest season,” said Throness. “They arrive stressed, and within just a few minutes they’re relaxing and enjoying themselves. There’s something therapeutic about just being around plants and soil, especially in downtown Toronto.”
Food from the Ryerson Urban Farm can be found at the Ryerson Farmer’s Market, which runs every Wednesday, May 11 to October 5, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Gould Street. For more information on the Ryerson Urban Farm, go to ryeshomegrown.wordpress.com/.