Building Roots


Upcoming food events

Check our TO Food Events Hub link above for information on what's coming up, including events with Building Roots and Food Nation!

Skate & Cider with Food Nation

At Skate and Cider, we'll be discussing a food justice vision for Toronto and sharing the Food Nation platform around a warm camp fire.

Date: February 21, 2015 Time: 2-4pm

Location: Duffering Grove Park (south of Bloor on Dufferin)

Feed Your Advocacy with Building Roots 

Help Create Places to Grow, Cook, Buy, and Share Healthy Food 

Date: February 23, 2015 Time: 6:30 - 8:00pm

Location: 35 Fairview Mall Drive, Toronto Public Library Room 1, First Floor



4 ways to plant an urban agriculture breakthrough in Toronto

Every neighbourhood needs places to grow, cook, buy and share healthy food.

Read this in:




That means urban agriculture needs a big scale-up across Toronto. Same with commercial/community kitchens, food stores, markets, street food and community food hubs.

Our city is growing faster than ever, and so it’s time that all new housing and renewals across the City bring this needed infrastructure for new residents and for the existing neighbours.

The City can use existing policies and change a few, to make this a reality. It will require councillors, planners, agencies and developers to work together with residents to make it happen.

Quadrangle Architects

Toronto’s Official Plan, the big map for the future of our City, even calls for community and rooftop gardens, and states, “our future is one where adequate amounts of safe, nutritious, culturally acceptable food are available to all.”

So let’s get to work.

Along with a whole bunch of amazing projects and plans underway like the Urban Agriculture Strategy, these key items could get things growing.

  1. Develop it

Whenever there’s a consultation meeting on a new housing project, a condo or a renewal, Torontonians have to show up and bring food into the discussion. Most developers and planners don’t have food top of mind, but a City full of people who care about improving the food system can make it happen.

Look around your area with your neighbours and ask what’s missing. A food store? A community garden? Access to a kitchen? (Affordable housing??) Bring it up to the planner and councillor and see what can be worked in as Toronto continues to change. Learn how to do it here.

  1. Plan it in

The City is undertaking neighbourhood plans all the time, including some major revitalizations. These need to suit the needs of current residents. Your feedback is critical to getting it right. And the City provides many ways to provide it and engage in the process.

When we “embed” food into these plans, we can actually get some real sway and results when things get moving. Residents in Regent Park raised their voice, it's in the plan and it's happening. Let’s prioritize our neighbourhood food needs in these neighbourhood strategies and follow-up to see that things come together, get them built and operated.

Daniels Corporation

  1. Follow the money

Section 37 is a part of the Planning Act that pushes many developments to lend money for community benefits, like park improvements. They haven't traditionally been used for gardens in parks or kitchens in community centres, but it can all be done.

Councillors, residents and planners need to know that these are options. In fact, a community garden and a new apartment food hub have recently been made possible by taking advantage of good chunks of these funds in Toronto thanks to some foresight. Let’s use what we can do to improve food access.


  1. Green that building

Toronto is lucky enough to have the Toronto Green Standard which provides all sorts of rules and incentives to make new buildings much more sustainable than they would have been. Local food grown on site could give residents or neighbours a five metre diet, reducing food kilometres and farm run-off.

But again, food has been forgotten and is missing from the Standard. Let’s incent developers to green it up and work to build and support growing food (not just sedum) as part of new roofs and adjacent landscapes or parks.

Help push for change.

To get some more details and figure out how you can help make it happen, contact us or check out this advocacy overview.

For some examples and how to talk this up in a nearby development, visit our Building Roots Toolkit.

You can also help advocate for change by endorsing and volunteering with Food Nation and our platform (see point number 1!)

And don't forget to dig in! This'll all need a heck of a lot more urban farmers, facilitators and teachers to make happen.

Darcy Higgins is the Founding Director of Food Forward. He is a consultant with Building Roots, currently developing new urban agriculture, markets, kitchens and food hubs in Toronto.


Building Roots primer: a food vision for Toronto neighbourhoods

Innovating Food in new Toronto housing developments

The development of community and commercial food infrastructure in new housing developments in the City of Toronto would bring about several benefits:

 - halt the creation of “food deserts” in new housing development/neighbourhoods and support food availability in existing ones;

address the growing interest of community members to be active in community food projects;

support the animation of diverse Toronto neighbourhoods with stronger community engagement and cohesion;

-  increase the availability of healthy, sustainable, and accessible food options, particularly in lower income communities;

create job opportunities for entrepreneurs, especially low income and newcomers, to grow, cook, and sell food;

 -  support struggling community food programs with greater resources and increase Toronto’s leadership in the local food movement.

The type of infrastructure needed to be built will depend on the interest of the community surrounding a development; the needs coming from new housing based on its scale; existing needs of the community; and the size and type of building(s) and surrounding areas.

Food infrastructure can come in the form of services for future building residents, or those that are accessible in benefit of the broader community. Developers can be involved in building infrastructure as part of the development, encouraging certain types of use such as retail, or partnering with community associations, building managers, residents, or other organizations and social ventures to create good uses of space or fund spaces in nearby facilities.

Types of infrastructure can include:

- Grocery stores, other food retail (green grocers, cultural food stores, street food, grab and go), a community café (see St. James Town Cafe) or food co-ops (like Parkdale’s West End Food Co-op);

- Community gardens or allotments gardens, with infrastructure for mid-scale composting, which could exist on a rooftop, private land, or nearby public space;

- Unit-focused projects, like supporting composting and design for balcony gardening;

- Planting and maintenance of fruit trees and other edible landscapes;

- Community and commercial kitchen space;

- A multi-purpose food or community hub that supports community programming that incorporates several of the above components and infrastructures.

The Daniels Corporation was a significant partner with community agencies and the City of Toronto in building food infrastructure into new housing and surrounding lands in Regent Park. Food projects include rooftop food gardens, a grocery store, and Paintbox Bistro, a social enterprise restaurant, café and caterer. The re-development of the neighbourhood will is now seeing a park with community gardens, a farmer’s market, and a bake oven. The developer has been a partner and funder of local agencies and the Regent Park Food Partnership in this work. Food initiatives will also be incorporated into Alexandra Park and Lawrence Heights revitalizations and smaller TCHC re-developments, with community advocacy working to prioritize their needs.

Community and rooftop gardens are also being built with the support of developers. The Davie Village Community Garden was created by Prima Properties in Vancouver in a space that has the intention of being developed, but will take significant time. Local policy and consultation with the community gave way to the decision to create a community garden on the space.

Individual projects can be supported by neighbourhood advocates, organizations, and city councillors, and in partnership with developers. The development of food infrastructure could also be supported by City of Toronto policy in various ways, such as by ensuring food access as part of planning for growth in the official plan, similar to current planning for employment or transit; community and local sustainable food initiatives as part of neighbourhood plans (secondary plans, social developments plans); Toronto Green Standard checklist; and/or community food infrastructure projects as part of Section 37 community benefits guidelines. Food infrastructure can also be built into neighbourhood planning guidelines and in the provincial policy statement.


Exciting news in Toronto: urban agriculture funded by developers

Our Building Roots team took particular notice of a garden in Ward 22 with notice from Councillor Josh Matlow.


Because the City passed a motion making the community garden in Oriole Park the first community infrastructure project we've heard of to use Section 37 for food.

It is also the ward's first community garden, helping to fulfill the City's policy passed a decade ago for a public garden in every ward.

When we spoke to Josh he said that asking city councillors to use Section 37 it was a way to implement good food in new and established developments and parks. Section 37 is funding provided as part of the development process to projects that provide community benefits. See our developing Building Roots Toolkit for more info and how to do this yourself.

Oriole Park's community garden being built in May

Councilor Matlow met with residents in Brentwood Towers, Deer Park and Chaplin Estates residents to determine how they wanted to see Section 37 funds used. The majority voted for a community garden.  Community town hall meetings also helped to carefully determine the best use of the money for the residents.

This is an excellent example of local decision-making and budgeting - and the people wanted food!

The development at 137, 147 and 35 Merton Street fully funded Section 37, and therefore the garden. Now that Section 37 for the park is allocated there will be a committee of residents who will be part of the design, implementation and maintenance of the community garden.

Perhaps local businesses will donate equipment and other raw materials, such as soil, seedlings and even labour.

We look forward to hearing more about Oriole Park and how the process will create a space that can be used by everyone.

The fact that Section 37 funds were used to create this urban agriculture initiative is a tangible example to city Councillors, planners and developers that urban agriculture and related community and commercial food infrastructure can be accomplished when we all work together.

This is exactly what Building Roots is working to make happen across Toronto. Contact us for support in making this happen in your neighbourhood.

- Lisa Kates, Building Roots consultant