During a routine visit to your local grocery store you could place a carton of strawberries in your basket, then some bagged lettuce, perhaps a loaf of bread and an avocado as an after-thought. But how often do you ask yourself, where does all this food come from?
That’s a question you may not want the answer to. The thought usually never lingers but the fact still remains that, on average, our food travels 4,800 kilometres.
The role of growing and processing food has been pushed far outside major cities and suburbs, most often into other countries. Architects and city planners are starting to realize the importance of food production within urban landscapes, but are slow to act.
Ryerson architectural student, Sarah Ives, is part of a sustainable solution. Her design, in addition to others with food security in mind, can help drastically decrease the miles food travels from farm to table.
Ives’ design is a conceptual proposal based on the design fundamentals supported by Carrot City, a Ryerson group that consists of a core team of professors and interested students. Together, they explore the role architects have in helping to create sustainable food-producing cities.
“In the studio I was in with Mark (Gorgolewski) we had to design something on campus that encouraged growing so I did a temporary greenhouse structure that could be on the vacant sites on Ryerson,” Ives said of her class project.
Her proposal, Campus Seed, is a simple concept that combines both architectural beauty and functional sustainability. She proposed a long greenhouse made up of a series of vertical bays in the empty Sears parking lot at Dundas Street and Jarvis Street.
“The intention was that this structure would be easy to build and assemble quickly by Ryerson students, or a combination of professionals and students for a collaborated effort,” says Ives.
The space of the conceptual project would be functional all year with the temporary green house on the south end and removable pods that are rolled onto the parking lot for growing.
The seeds would grow in the greenhouse throughout the school year when cars are parked and in the summer months, the pods would be rolled out to create an expanded garden.
Food harvested in the fall could be sold, eaten or donated and the space would also facilitate events and night markets and the pods used for studying.
“A lot of it was about allowing for Ryerson to still have its parking lot at times when it needs it while having the growing happen. It’s about a middle ground between the two and having a balance.”
Ives only discovered urban agriculture when she met Mark Gorgolewski and June Komisar, two of the three leaders of Ryerson’s Carrot City, in her second year.
Now, she’s helping design the boards for Carrot City’s travelling exhibit, which is commemorating its fifth anniversary this year. Ives is helping design the boards for the exhibit by curating various projects and creating detailed displays.
“The travelling exhibit is a way of disseminating, or teaching people, about some of the opportunities,” explains Gorgolewski.
“We engage with local interest groups in this subject area, not to just organize the exhibition, but to organize lectures and workshops to engage people in the ideas from the show.”
The group’s purpose is to study the implications of bringing food into a built environment and what type of spaces and buildings in the city could create food while engaging people through architecture to eat mindfully.
“Really we’re looking at ways of producing food and processing food close to its consumption,” says Gorgolewski.
He says it’s easy to incorporate food-producing spaces even in existing structures and spaces but city politics do not support it.
“The main issue is with land values because land, agricultural land, does not have a high value,” says Gorgolewski.
The easiest way to start greening cities is to incorporate small, wasted space in the city like rooftops and parks for growing.
Ryerson has already utilized several spaces like these on campus for food production, such as a small area on the north side of Gould Street and the George Vari Engineering building rooftop.
Emily Patterson, Ryerson masters student writing her thesis on food production in the city, says the solution for food security lies more within a collective effort that practices community rebuilding.
Small-scale projects like Ives’ Student Seed are a start, but can’t produce large volumes of food and may be limited by seasonal constraints.
“It takes a long time to build up a just food system. You can’t plant the seed and expect it to grow overnight,” explains Patterson. “One of the first steps is to connect the initiative … (But) action will come inevitably.”