Zero-mile diet: five tips for the aspiring urban farmer
By Justin Robertson
Cows: an optional addition for the urban farmer (Image: Matt Jiggins)
Last Sunday at the Noor Cultural Centre, Kathleen Ko from Young Urban Farmers guided 60 people on the finer points of how to set up a veggie garden in an urban setting. The good thing is that it’s not as hard as you might expect. The bad thing is that it’s still going to require some time (and who in Toronto has any of that to spare?). For the truly motivated, here are five things you’ll need to become a farmer in the city.
1. Sun. Lots of sun. Any unused space that catches a lot of sun, like a balcony, deck or even your rooftop will be gold for plants or veggies. A vegetable garden should have at least six hours of sun per day. If you’re growing indoors, south-facing windows are the brightest. If you can’t find a sunny area but still want to grow some edibles, don’t despair. Ferns — like fiddleheads — can thrive in shady areas, and so can mushrooms.
2. Soil. If your budget is low, head to a nearby park to grab some soil. We won’t judge. Don’t forget to ensure proper drainage, otherwise your veggies will drown.
3. Tools of the trade. If you’re growing on a balcony or indoors, you’ll need containers. This is a good chance to re-purpose some items (Young Urban Farmers even suggests using an old bathtub). Smaller hand tools such as a trowel and pruners are also good to have, along with a watering can. But the most important tool will be your hands. And yes, they will get dirty.
4. Seedlings. It’s probably best to initiate one’s foray into urban farming with started plants — which can be bought at places like Urban Harvest — rather than seeds. Leafy greens and herbs are best for beginners. If you’re venturing into other produce, Ko suggests picking varieties that you know you'll eat. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and other salad greens are good choices, and if you have a chain link fence, consider climbing plants like cucumbers, beans and peas.
5. An urban farmer’s mindset. Think like an urban farmer. Dress like an urban farmer. Talk like an urban farmer. Chances are, you’ll have some disappointments (and successes) along the way, but don’t throw in the towel. With Toronto’s urban farming movement on the rise, there are plenty of others in the same boat. Talk with them.