Welcome to Food Forward


Healthy food tops agenda for new councillors

Immediate Release
Tuesday November 9, 2010

TORONTO, ON – As a new Council prepares for its December start, getting better food on people’s plates has emerged as a priority for many new and incumbent councillors this term. Solutions addressing food insecurity, health and sustainability have become widely discussed as food centres, community gardens and food entrepreneurs continue to sprout up across Toronto.

“I am excited by the number of councillors interested in healthy food and that it will finally be getting Council’s attention,” said Darcy Higgins, Executive Director of Food Forward. “Support for urban agriculture was a highlight of many successful candidates’ election platforms. Food Forward will be advocating to advance solutions,” he said.

Bureaucratic barriers and limited approvals have been the norm for community projects. The City is working to remedy this through the Toronto Food Strategy, a comprehensive approach to food policy which was passed unanimously by the Board of Health earlier this year, which is expected to come to Council for broader support and implementation.

“I am impressed by the work of the Toronto Food Policy Council,” said Kristyn Wong-Tam, Councillor-elect for Ward 27. “I welcome the opportunity to work with residents and businesses to address general concerns about improving healthy food affordability and accessibility in our distinctive neighbourhoods,” she said.

The newly elected Councillor in Ward 32 shares Wong-Tam’s interest.

“I am looking forward to working hard to promote urban agriculture in our great city,” said Mary-Margaret McMahon. “I plan to work with residents to create more community food gardens in Ward 32 as our current gardens have long waiting lists. Starting the East Lynn Farmers' Market with my neighbours has been a wonderful and educational experience. It is now a dynamic community hub promoting Ontario farmers,” she said.


Planning agriculture in the city

City planners are recognizing the importance of integrating food into a city's design. Last week, the Ontario Professional Planners Institute hosted a two-day symposium on healthy communities and food. I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop on urban agriculture and city planning, presented by author Lorraine Johnson and Stewart Chisholm and Rebekka Hutton of Evergreen.

Case Studies: Rebekka highlighted several inspiring urban agriculture case studies across North America, including FoodCycles in Toronto, Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn, and Growing Power in Milwaukee. Beyond healthy, fresh food, each of these projects also provides educational programs and training opportunities to their communities. Closer to home, the Evergreen Brick Works demonstration gardens, which are open to the public, showcase innovative, intensive urban food growing techniques.

Urban Agriculture Policies: On the policy side, Stewart discussed several new enabling bylaws, such as allowing urban agriculture as a home occupation (Victoria), permitting backyard chickens (Vancouver), and revising zoning bylaws to support urban agriculture (Baltimore and Seattle).

Obstacles & Myths: Lorraine addressed urban agriculture obstacles and myths, which can be daunting to would-be food growers. Of great concern is soil pollution and the idea that cities are inherently dirty and unsuitable for growing food. The solution is to look into the history of the site, test the soil, and remediate the soil or raise the bed if the site is contaminated. Vandalism is another worry. Surprisingly little vandalism occurs, but when it does happen gardeners can take measures such as installing strategic rocks and planting prickly bushes to reduce impacts from others. However, the most effective remedy is engaging the community in the project; the more local residents are involved, the less vandalism occurs.

Rural vs. Urban Farms: One planner, who had an agricultural background, raised her concern about the lines between urban and rural land-use blurring. If urban agriculture becomes more prevalent, where does the separation between urban and rural food production begin? (I think her unspoken question was "Will urban farms threaten the survival of rural ones?")

Rebekka's answer was that farmers would always be needed, and no amount of urban farming could ever replicate or replace the output of rural farms. The importance of urban agriculture lies in strengthening the connection of people to their food and giving them a better appreciation of agriculture. For example, some city children have little understanding of where vegetables and fruit come from. An excellent way to educate them is through first-hand experience in urban gardens, especially if they will never have the opportunity to visit a rural farm.

Let's Get Growing! Including urban agriculture in a city's plan has multiple benefits, from improving access to fresh produce, to providing educational opportunities within the community, to contributing to a healthier environment. The video below, which I created for the workshop, discusses how urban agriculture can be integrated into a city's plan and how communities benefit as a result.


Many are saying the real work begins today

Congratulations to the candidates and winners in yesterday's election.

It will be up to the next Council to support Toronto's Food Strategy, and to work on implementing the policy priorities which we've been educating and dialoguing with candidates on for the last few months. We've been very happy with the response. Indeed across all of Ontario, residents worked to bring food into the election and politicians are listening.

Food Forward's volunteers and partners did a lot in this election to bring food to a higher place in the election discussion - at a time when discussion about policy issues weren't always top of some candidates' and media's agenda. We also learned a lot along the way, and ask for your participation in creating a broader food movement across Toronto that will make positive change in hunger, health and sustainability - at City Hall and beyond - inevitable. Click Get Involved on the right.

Toronto Environmental Alliance has created a template to email your newly elected Councillor what you think their priorities should be. Click here
to write your own letter about environmental and related issues. I have a feeling we'll be doing a lot more of that.

À bientôt!


Pushing food forward from the ground up

Now it's time to vote, and work with the next Council

Election day looms before us - a much anticipated (and feared) moment.

These past months, I’ve worked with the Foodshed Project, a network of rural and urban food activists, academics, and artists connecting people in Southern Ontario’s local and sustainable food movement. Strong Toronto food policy is a priority for our group. To that end, I’ve been working with our Food Forward partners to build dialogue with Council candidates and community members in my own Ward (19 Trinity-Spadina), and supporting others in pushing food forward in their neighbourhoods.

[Caitlin engages with mayoral candidate George Smitherman on the Toronto Food Strategy with other FoodShed members after the Toronto Environmental Alliance debate.]

Connecting with community members and Council candidates has assured me that we can build the food system we deserve, where our community is fertile ground to grow food, access affordable local food, and support farmers and food projects. At a Ward 19 debate, I asked how candidates would support the Toronto Food Strategy (TFS) if elected. Most candidates pleaded ignorance, but two clearly showed their support of strong food policy: Karen Sun and Mike Layton.

After the debate and the following day at the Trinity-Bellwoods Farmers’ Market I had dynamic conversations with my neighbours – some thinking about food policy for the first time, and some already supporting the movement. This was engaging and powerful dialogue and it gave me immense hope that I know is shared by all of you who took similar action in your own neighbourhoods!

Once the dust settles next week, we will have a new City Council. Regardless of who they are, they will decide whether to implement a comprehensive set of local and sustainable food policies through the TFS. We must remember that the mayor cannot make decisions without the support of councillors, and in the end, they are accountable to us.

Thanks to the hard work of so many organizations and community members, we’ve reached a tipping point in Toronto’s food movement.

Now, we must use our momentum to continue to push food forward and ensure that Council implements the policies we need to grow local and sustainable food systems – for Toronto, and for the larger Southern Ontario foodshed.

Vote on Monday with food in mind.
Find out how to vote: http://voteto.ca