A Jane's Walk Full of Edible Goodness
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A Jane’s Walk Full of Edible Goodness

Jane’s Walk guide Lorraine Johnson discussing the hidden-in-plain-sight world of city farming. Photo by Mike Straitton.

The sky was a deep shade of doom-and-gloom as the crowd gathered at the gates of Trinity Bellwoods Park Sunday morning, prepped for the forecast monsoon with rubber boots, rain jackets, and printed umbrellas in tow. Luckily, no Arc was needed for the light drizzle we got, but if we had suffered a storm that wiped out civilization as we knew it, this was exactly the group we’d want to be stranded with. Social order? Unnecessary. In an hour and a half we’d know all about how to find and harvest food right here in our own city.
This past weekend, we, along with many other Torontonians, stretched our legs, told the TTC to take a hike of its own, and reconnected with our neighbourhoods and the people we share them with.The fourth edition of Toronto’s Jane’s Walk saw one hundred and twenty guided tours wander through the heights and lows, ins and outs, upsides and downsides of our beloved Big Smoke. Started in 2007 by a group of friends of the late activist, urbanist, and neighbourhood enthusiast Jane Jacobs, Jane’s Walk originally lasted one day and featured twenty seven walking tours. But Toronto’s foot fever has since caught on around the world: this year, over four hundred tours were offered in sixty-eight cities, including Madrid, Mumbai, Dublin, and many dozens across the United States and Canada.
City Farmers and Locavores: Free Food in the City,” one of our own Jane’s Walks of choice this year, took the pedestrian grassroots movement to a whole other level. Led by urban agriculture experts and authors Sarah Elton and Lorraine Johnson, we explored the areas where Torontonians are working within the urban city landscape to grow and find food.

As we walked westward from the park across Queen Street, trying not to disturb the hungover haze of those enjoying their brunches at Oddfellows and the Drake Café, we learned how you can transform a parking lot into a community garden, how local chefs like the Fairmont Royal York’s David Garcelon are using ingredients they grow themselves in their dishes, how to properly eat dandelions, and picked up some tips on where to pick fresh berries in Scarborough and the Don Valley. We even sampled some of Hogtown’s homegrown harvests: blossoms from the red bud trees in the park and some homemade garlic mustard bruschetta made with mustard also grown in Trinity Bellwoods.
Years ago, city-dwellers relied heavily on food they grew and tended at home. As Elton explained, a flock of chickens rather than a three-car pileup could pose a threat to traffic on the Danforth when her grandmother moved to Toronto in the 1950s. Both Elton and Johnson said the urban agriculture movement is about re-establishing our connection with food and reconnecting with the “roots” of food production, much like Jane’s Walk is meant to strengthen our connection to our neighbours and neighbourhoods. While concerns over the safety and quality of produce grown in a downtown city centre are legitimate, Johnson said that knowing the history of the soil used to grow the food, plus taking the time to give foodstuffs a good wash, should ease any worry about pollution.
Naysayers aside, the future of urban agriculture in Toronto looks as bright as Johnson’s purple tights and carrot-shaped earrings. It even seems poised to be an issue in this year’s election—as it should—if Sunday’s walk was an appropriate estimation of the amount of interest in the subject. And all the while, organizations like The Stop Community Food Centre, Not Far From the Tree, and Sharing Backyards Toronto are all working on projects that allow Torontonians to literally share the fruits of their gardens and fruit trees with the rest of the city, just as local food experts shared their wisdom with us this weekend.