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We showed, tasted & told! Urban Agriculture Week – School Garden Tour

Saturday September 14 – Toronto

The second annual Urban Agriculture Week was kicked off on Saturday 14 September, a beautiful warm day. Green Thumbs led our Garden Tour as promised – meeting at Sherbourne Station and walking through St. James Town to Rose Ave. PS to see the garden there first. This garden was started in 2005, animating a previously underused corner of the school ground. This school is surrounded by apartment buildings, housing over 20,000 people. The school garden is the children’s closest access to nature. As a shady garden, it’s best for growing herbs and greens, with the one sunny corner towards the back able to produce fruits.

Tour group at Rose Ave. PS garden

Hélène St. Jacques, left, chats with a new Rose Ave parent, and Ohemaa Boateng (centre), our Garden and Food Educator who led the tour.

As we walked towards Winchester Jr. & Sr. PS, we also made a stop at a community member’s house where a backyard garden is under development as part of a larger, visionary project called OASIS – ultimately planning to be a large-scale aquaponics operation to help feed this urban neighbourhood as part of a strategy of resilience in a low-income, high-density neighbourhood.

We arrived at Winchester school garden where Ohemaa told the group how mastodons once ate the seed pods of the Kentucky Coffee Tree, but when the mastodon went extinct, the tree became rare because its animal partner was no longer eating and pooping out the seeds! So now, children are the “mastodons” who sand down the seed coat, soak the seed overnight, and then the Kentucky Coffee Tree seeds will grow. This is part of our Urban Trees from Seed program, which uses part of the school gardens to raise trees that will go back out to the urban landscape. The goal is to increase the tree canopy in Toronto from 26% to 40%.

Tour group at Winchester PS garden

Here’s another angle on this garden, where you can see the St. James Town buildings in the background. The students from Rose Ave. PS often come here to Winchester for Grade 7 & 8. This garden has been going since 2001, as a school-community garden with many programs and lots of food production, given its size at 11,000 square feet.

Winchester PS garden looking north to St. James Town

We had some Black River Juices left over from an earlier event, and by this time the drink was a welcome refreshment. Maybe it’s because of climate change so not good, but it sure feels nice to be hot in mid-September.

We then made our way to Sprucecourt PS, the third and final school garden on the tour. This garden started in 2008, by students who had gone to the school and were now in university, looking for a way to give back to their elementary alma mater. Green Thumbs got involved and soon this was a front-yard school garden with enormous traction as a teaching space.

Garden in front of Sprucecourt PS

The highlight of the tour was there at Sprucecourt, where we set up the bicycle blender and the kids created smoothies using fruits, herbs and Oat Milk from our sponsor, Earth’s Own. (That’s me on the left waiting for deliciousness.) Our tour participants tasted shiso, mint, callalloo, mouse melons and lemon cucumbers from the garden.

Child on bike blender, creating a smoothie

Finally, our group made its way to the Urban Agriculture Fair, where all manner of practitioners were showing their stuff. This was held in the new-ish Regent Park, site of the Good Food Markets every Wednesday through summer, and co-ordinated by our partners at the Regent Park Community Food Centre.

Toronto Urban Growers did an amazing job of bringing everyone together – and were the prime movers behind getting the city’s Mayor to proclaim Urban Agriculture Week.

Table at the Urban Agriculture Fair, with oat milk tasting

Again the Oat Milk from Earth’s Own was a big hit – everyone who tasted it wanted to know where to get it! We did our best to point the way. In the background, you can see the Daniels Spectrum building where our office is housed, in the Centre for Social Innovation – Regent Park. Thanks to Ohemaa, Kevin Tran who’s doing his Community Worker placement with us (centre) and Lily Yee, board member (right) for running our table once we got to the fair! And thanks to all who came and made the day so much fun. Finally, thanks to our sponsors at Earth’s Own for making plant-based milk a big hit!

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