Urban Food Production

Photo: Mark Winterer, Recover Green Roofs
An Elegant Solution to Climate Change, Your Health and More!

Growing food in cities, on the rooftops of buildings, on balconies, walls and over under utilized parkland, boulevards, and parking lots is the solution to many challenges! As a hobby, growing your own food, particularly with others, helps to build community, which is great for your health and well-being. Sharing locally grown food with neighbours, or through the local food bank further amplifies the health and community benefits of local food production. My brother bursts with pride every time we come for dinner and he serves up his fresh homegrown produce.

These days, with the swirling of enormous amounts of data around us and the ever-rising amount of time we spend glued to screens, there is something enormously satisfying about growing one's own food. I think it connects us, in a fundamental and tangible way, to nature in our city and empowers us. Growing food at a larger scale, through organized co-ops and small commercial enterprises can also contribute to local jobs, and support the health and well being of economically disadvantaged citizens, whose diets are often lacking in fresh produce.

Research has shown, that even just looking out of a hospital window at trees, compared to a brick wall, reduces the use of medicines in patients undergoing identical surgeries who can see the trees. Providing green spaces in hospitals also reduces staff stress and can improve productivity and reduce absenteeism. A healthy urban forest not only cools the city and stores carbon, it has direct health benefits and improves the property values of adjacent buildings. How is this so you may ask?

In the 1980's E.O. Wilson, a famous scientist wrote about the connection humans have with living things, and how we need to nurture these connections to remain physically and mentally healthy. He called this the 'biophilia hypothesis' - which in the instinctive bond between humans and other living things. Philia means we are attracted to something, in this case life. It is the opposite of phobia, that which we fear.

His work has given rise to an emerging approach to planning and designing communities and buildings called 'biophilic design' Biophilic design involves, among other things, reintroducing and restoring living green infrastructure in our communities - urban forests, parklands, wetlands, green roofs and walls.

One result of this new trend towards biophilic design is to have buildings that encourage the occupants to grow food on their roofs and walls, and to even produce high value goods such as honey, while also providing much needed habitat for insects and birds. It also involves having streets designed with boulevards that capture rainfall, support trees and shrubs, slow down traffic and support non-automobile based transportation like walking and riding. Growing food in cities and the surrounding regions also cuts down on greenhouse gases that are associated with the transportation of food over long distances, sometimes thousands of miles. Many of these types of projects and the policies that support them will be presented at Grey to Green, a conference on green infrastructure and climate change at Ryerson University in Toronto on June 2-3, 2016.

Right now, across the country, senior level governments are currently looking for ways to stimulate the economy through grey infrastructure spending on roads and bridges. By earmarking some of this spending on living green infrastructure, they can not only create jobs, fight climate change and improve air quality, but also provide funds for community gardens, rooftop farms, urban orchards and many other approaches to growing food in our community. Urban food production is one of those rare opportunities to address multiple challenges simultaneously - and with your help, we can accelerate its potential to deliver!

Steven W. Peck, GRP, Honorary ASLA is the founder and president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities and founder of Green Infrastructure Ontario . He will be co-presenting on the subject of urban agriculture with Arlene Throness, manager, Ryerson's Urban Rooftop Farm on April 15, 2016 at the Green Living Show.