A Rooftop Gardening Project in Toronto with the about Face Collective

Article excerpt

Interview with Natalie Boustead by Erica Franklin

The About Face Collective is a Toronto-based grassroots arts and environmental collective that collaborates and connects with artists, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, organizations and community members seeking to work collectively and seeking to integrate approaches to urban sustainability. Led by Natalie Boustead, a teacher and urban farmer, and by Lauren Pirie, an artist and graphic designer, the collective brings together these two distinct worlds and aims to combine them to create environmentally conscious and artistically inspired projects that benefit the community.

The Collective's current project is the creation of a community rooftop garden and learning space on top of the new Centre for Social Innovation, at their new Annex neighbourhood location in Toronto, Canada. The creative structural elements of the garden will be designed and built by local artists using recycled and reclaimed materials. The project is set to start in January of 2012 and I recently had a chance to talk with Natalie Boustead and ask her some questions about the project.

EF: About Face's current project is an initiative to build a rooftop garden and learning space on top of the Centre for Social Innovation in the Annex neighbourhood in Toronto. Can you discuss this project in relation to urban food security?

NB: This project, like most urban farming projects, has both immediate and longterm effects on the surrounding community. In terms of environmental impact, urban rooftop gardens such as this will help to reduce smog emissions, storm water run-off, and, because it is replacing black tar roof with green space, it also helps to reduce what is known as the 'heat island effect', which causes urban centres to experience higher than average temperatures. Growing food locally also reduces the emissions from trucks, planes and other transportation needed to import our food from elsewhere.

Since we are also going to function as an educational hub for urban farming, the knowledge we have will be spread outwards into our communities. We understand that we cannot produce as much food as a farmer who has access to acres and acres of land outside of the city; but sharing the knowledge of how to grow food will increase Toronto residents' access to local, healthy food, because hopefully they'll be inspired to grow it right in their own backyard or balcony!

EF: How substantial is rooftop gardening in urban food security initiatives in Toronto?

NB: Rooftop gardening could be a substantial contribution to urban food security, were it to be a widely adopted process. This is especially true for newer buildings, which have higher load capacities on their rooftops and could therefore produce more food. Although one rooftop only represents a sliver of farmland, if we combined all the useable rooftop space in Toronto, our reliance on imported food would drop significantly. However, getting away from imported food also means that people have to be willing to eat seasonally and locally, which requires an ideological shift in what is actually "available" at any given time. That said, there are many local crops which we are still importing from places as far away as China, which we could stop importing immediately and begin to grow and purchase exclusively within our own province and city.

EF: How can current urban food security initiatives in Toronto be contextualized within agricultural history in Canada?

NB: An interesting experiment was performed by a professor at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. He asked his class, "How many of you had grandparents that grew up and worked on a farm". Most of the class raised their hands. "Now," he said, "how many of your parents grew up and/or worked on a farm?" This time, only 40% raised their hands. "Ok, now, how many of YOU live and/or work on a farm?" Only two or three people out of the entire class raised their hands. …