Urban Gardeners Mitigating Climate Change

By Ben Hamill - May 25 2021

Urban Gardeners Mitigating Climate Change

What could be more exciting than transforming something from dull and grey to alive and green? Today, the concept of urban gardening is about so much more than growing flowers or herbs in a windowsill. In fact, experts in urban gardening now know backyard and rooftop growers can play a key role in helping big cities limit and manage the impact of climate change.

Toronto resident Jewel Gomes has been growing crops in her small Toronto backyard space for many years. A keen student in agronomy, Gomes is interested in growing foodstuffs not typically found in Canada – even plants and vegetables that are regarded impossible to grow in Canadian soil given the temperatures and climate.

Gomes, who studied agriculture in the Philippines before moving to Canada in the 1980s, has managed to grow many plants and crops normally needing warmer weather to flourish, including rice, which has created excitement and quite the stir at events in the city.

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The Unending Benefits

According to Dianne Zimmerman, Mississauga City’s environment manager, there are several big benefits to producing food locally. In addition to local food security and the cutting down of greenhouse gas emissions because of food no longer having to be transported by fossil fuel-consuming vehicles, urban gardening can also create a sense of inclusion and social connection. And a sense of community is perhaps now more valued than ever before.

But the concept of urban gardening isn’t limited to backyard small-space farming. It also includes growing food on rooftops and in city community gardens and special allotment areas. Ryerson University in downtown Toronto is a prime example of what becomes possible when thinking outside the “backyard growing” box. The university runs a rooftop farm on the roof of its engineering building that has now been expanded to just under a quarter acre of prime growing space.

Every year, the farm produces around 4,500 kilograms of food that supplies the campus community as well as local chefs. Also, it’s become a study for researchers like Tamer Almaaitah, a civil engineering student interested in the inner-city farm’s potential for reducing the risk of flooding by collecting stormwater.

Not A New Concept

But growing food within inner-city borders in Canada is no new concept, explains Karen Landman, who is a professor at the University of Guelph. Landman’s research focuses on urban gardening, which she says used to be a significant part of cities in North America being gradually phasing out after the First World War.

Landman says the potential of what could become possible is exciting and unending. And that people experimenting with growing vegetables not normally grown in Canada, however small their gardens, could even impact how food is grown commercially in the country. She uses Okra as an example.

Though not indigenous to Canada, Okra is today grown commercially in the country after urban growers in Ontario started experimenting with it on a small scale. And its but one example of what could be done given the lead, creativity, and vision of urban gardeners.

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