Urban Farming | The Everything Roof
Urban Farming in Toronto
Illustration by Lauren Pirie
Our new issue is due to arrive in just a few days! The theme centers around an introduction to urban farming—to people making it happen and great ideas/ways to get you started, all with a stylish, sustainable twist. As we were researching the new issue we came across so many amazing ideas, projects and people, way too much to include them all in the magazine, but I'm delighted to share a few with you here as we lead up to the release of Volume 2. First, in Toronto, is an brand new initiative called The Everything Roof created by a group called The About Face Collective. Their project is due to complete this summer—we'll make sure to catch up with them then as well, but in the meantime we asked them a few questions about their amazing project.
Who is The About Face Collective? What are your mandates and objectives?
The About Face Collective is a little bit Natalie Boustead and a little bit Lauren Pirie and a lot of everyone else we know. We can loosely describe it as consisting of most of the people working in or caring about art, sustainability, food security, health, and general good things in Toronto, but even that broad description doesn't encompass all of the people who have contributed to our initiatives over the last year or more. Nat and I met in 2009 after a mutual friend recognized that we both had similar crazy ideas. It turned out we were a perfect match: I came from an art and design background and was a slightly obsessed food and eco-nerd; Nat was an experienced organic and urban farmer and educator with a creative approach. The first time we met—at an eco-community meeting Natalie held—it was a bit like a love-at-first-sight scene in a cheesy eighties movie. We swear there were sparkles in the air. Of course, we may both be a bit delusional, but it's a quality that's maybe necessary to launch a non-profit project like this.
Not long after that, we formed The About Face Collective with a vision of creative community spaces that would promote healthy, sustainable lifestyles in Toronto, integrating artistic and sustainable approaches. We really wanted to put emphasis on making these lifestyles accessible and attractive to young people and lower income families and individuals. Officially our mandate is to "collaborate with and connect artists, environmentalists, organizations, and community members seeking to work collectively and integrate approaches to urban sustainability."
What was your motivation for creating The Everything Roof? What is the scope of this project?
The Everything Roof was developed as a platform to showcase creative approaches to sustainability and community space in this city—in any city really, but especially in Toronto where we historically don't place as much value on community and public space. We wanted to show how involving artists and designers in community projects can be a huge benefit. We really wanted to show the possibilities for creative use of space, especially for urban food production, and to provide an open model and educate others to do the same.
We originally approached the Centre for Social Innovation when we heard that they were purchasing a building in the Annex as a second location. They had been sort of a social hero to us and we saw a great opportunity to collaborate with them. We went to them with a proposal and walked out with a go-ahead to apply for the Live Green Grant. It felt a bit like being a young Kanye and getting Jay-Z’s seal of approval. We were pretty excited.
The Everything Roof is unique because it incorporates art and youth as well as sustainable urban food production. Tell us more about the groups that are involved.
We actually approached both Sketch and Skate4Cancer before we even pitched the project to CSI. I had worked with Skate4Cancer for some years, particularly on helping to develop the You Are What You Eat campaign, and the collaboration was natural. S4C has this amazing and unique ability as an organization to really connect with kids at their level and address serious issues like cancer prevention. The You Are What You Eat campaign actually addresses healthy food habits as a whole, so the program helps tackle other health issues like obesity, heart disease, and general health. The Everything Roof will provide a physical space to really bring the concept of this campaign into hands-on educational programming and activities.
I had been introduced to Sketch by our friend—and one of our supporting artists—Joy Broadbent a while back. They are a really amazing organization that offers arts-based educational and work opportunities to street-involved and homeless youth in Toronto. We thought this project would be a great opportunity to bring some Sketch artists on board, support the amazing things that they were doing, and incorporate that with related challenges like food security and education. You can really maximize potential through collaboration. Bringing the experience of these groups into the mix has really helped this project take on a very interesting, multi-faceted shape. We like those kind of shapes a lot.
This project is as much about education as it is food; what environmental and social impacts do you anticipate The Everything Roof to have?
There is a long list of environmental benefits attached to this project—some of them are pretty direct, like replacing the black tar roof with green space, which means more carbon-consuming, oxygen-creating plant life, and it helps to reduce the “heat island” effect that these dead space roofs contribute to. We'll also be using the food that's produced on-site in our educational programming (there is a meal preparation component) as well as selling it through the on-site weekly office market and ground-floor cafe at Centre for Social Innovation. This means that there is essentially no travel cost, so no emissions spent to transport the produce. We’ll just run it down the stairs, literally. It's pretty much as local as you can get. Some of the less direct environmental impacts are also tied to social impacts. Since we'll be hosting workshops and programming, teaching people about growing their own food, creating green space, composting, making fun things out of what might otherwise be considered garbage, we hope that the positive impacts will multiply as people go on to apply the things they've learned at the Everything Roof to their own homes and lives and offices. Or maybe even start their own sustainability project.
A few notes - The Everything Roof is still in development and aims to be operational by summer, 2012. If you would be interested in volunteering or finding out more, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org with "Volunteer" in the subject line. You can also visit their website. Thank you Lauren for this interview!