Have you been to Fresh City Farms at Downsview Park yet? This off-grid organic urban farm of 2 acres and greenhouses began as a hyper-local Community Supported Agriculture program in 2011 (delivered by electric bikes) but quickly outgrew itself. It still operates as a weekly or bi-weekly food delivery service, but now offers a wide selection of food similar to the average grocery, only the farm gives you an organic, local, sustainable version. Some produce is grown in season at Downsview Park itself, but the farm also partners with other small, local farmers for more food diversity. While primarily local (about 70%), Fresh City Farms also works with farms from abroad by importing (not by airplane) organic and fair trade produce (selection of partners also considers factors like small-scale makers, sustainability, and social responsibility).
Right next to Hwy 427, Fresh City Farms also offers farm tours, workshops, and a farmer training program. It’s an amazing opportunity for aspiring farmers – 25 people get a plot of land right in Downsview Park in exchange for approximately $100 a year and part-time labour towards the larger farm. Our tour guide, who grew up on a farm herself, beamed a quiet pleasure in recounting that almost all graduates work on farms or own their own farms, including rural farms. Their goal of incubating farmers in a small urban environment is totally working.
You can see the farmers-in-training working in the photo above. In some ways, this not-so-picturesque shot is a favourite because of the cityscape behind them. The most exciting things can grow in unlikely places (although happily urban farms are being increasingly less unlikely).
I love gardening with the kids, so was predictably keen about the tour, but was not the only one. While our guide was great with kids, it was hard to tell between the kids and adults who was more excited. The tour was informative and interactive: something for everyone, if you will. We walked the small farm and asked tons of questions to our amiable guide. (Our tour was a couple of weeks ago; all the plants shown would be bigger by now.)
This thriving garlic bed was planted last fall and will be harvested later this summer.
After lunch, the children re-potted basil and parsley seedlings (which were later planted into our backyard garden), and then participated in a weed scavenger hunt. For the record, I love our guide’s confirmation that a weed is simply a plant that grows where you don’t want it to.
The black material covering the raised beds are designed to retain heat (which allows for earlier planting) and moisture (conserving water), as well as suppressing weeds. It’s also biodegradable.
We were allowed to glean from last year’s kale plants that had sported new growth this spring. It could not be resold, so the plants would need to be pulled. But there was so much kale on them! Our group of adults and kids alike got busy. I had a reusable bag with me, and it was good and puffy by the end. (I used all of it.)
When we got home, I made a simple salad with what was on hand: kale, kale flowers, cucumber, cheese, sunflower seeds, and some mint (also collected from the farm, where it grows wild). I’m no wizard in the kitchen and was pleased with it, mostly because it was new to us and because my husband and three kids ate all of it. Fresh City Farms was not our first small farm visit, but I’m always impressed with how inspiring they are.