Urban agriculture is the new green. Now that we’ve got trash reduction, active transportation, and energy conservation well-entrenched in our collective consciousness it’s time for the next frontier in city-based environmentalism, and our relationship to food is it. “Carrot City,” an exhibit showing at the Design Exchange until April 30, is trumpeting the latest and greatest developments in urban agriculture. Torontoist was at the opening party Tuesday night, and got the scoop on everything from a highrise tower built especially for pigs to a plan that would have us install greenhouses under the Gardiner.
“Carrot City” is curated by three Ryerson professors—June Komisar, Mark Gorgolewski, and Joe Nasr—all of whom were on hand at the party to introduce the exhibit. According to Komisar, much of the impetus for the show came from their students, who have become increasingly interested in how agriculture can be integrated into city life. It consists primarily of posters (kind of like a science fair for grown-ups) devoted to explaining all aspects of this growing trend in architecture and design. The posters cover a range of initiatives—some built, some in development, and some still on the drawing board—designed to facilitate food production in densely built and densely populated urban environments. Though the design projects are drawn from around the world, a very substantial number are based in Toronto. This, said Nasr, is no coincidence, and isn’t just due to the fact that it was put together by locals. Toronto is known internationally as a “hotbed of urban agriculture,” and several cities have already asked that the exhibit be sent out on tour once its run here is over.
A mini-greenhouse constructed of discarded window panes. Photo by Hamutal Dotan/Torontoist.
So what is urban agriculture all about? As explained by Gorgolewski, cities “need to start discussing closed-loop systems”—that is, how they can integrate the various aspects of food production and consumption into a coherent, self-sustaining cycle, and locate that system within the city itself. (Imagine an urban farm supplying your neighbourhood farmers market, making use of fertilizer made from the city’s own compost stream, and running workshops for nearby schools on nutrition and gardening.) Doing so reduces the carbon footprint of our food production, provides local employment, and revives what would otherwise be underutilized space. In addition, studies indicate that there are substantial social benefits to urban agriculture. (Kids who tend schoolyard gardens have increased self-esteem and attention spans, for instance, and prisoners who garden are less violent than those who do not.)
“Carrot City” considers ventures in four areas: large-scale developments (such as a proposal to build an urban farm at Downsview Park); community-level buildings and spaces (greenhouses, education centres, gardens, etc.); private residential and commercial projects (like the rooftop garden at the Fairmont Royal York, or condos that include self-sustaining garden systems); and specific products, tools, and technologies that can aid in implementing all these plans (everything from irrigation systems to portable chicken coops). A few are fanciful (the aforementioned Pig City, a proposal coming out of the Netherlands, seemed the least likely to get built, at least around here), but most of the designs are eminently realizable, and eminently worth realizing.
Hey, we’re already fans of guerrilla gardening. If we can get dinner out of it as well, so much the better.