What Do the 2015 Urban Agriculture Indicators Tell Us?

Urban agriculture has been on the rise in recent years within the Thunder Bay area. The number of community gardens has more than tripled since 2008 and have increasingly been created for different purposes. The most common type of community gardens are located in neighbourhoods across the city and are organized as individual plots that residents can use to grow food for themselves for the growing season. Both Confederation College and Lakehead University have large individual plot-style community gardens to give students, faculty and community members an opportunity to grow food. A number of organizations in the city have also started gardens as a way to build community, grow fresh food for use in programming, and as a source of healthy food for low income residents. Institutions such as the Thunder Bay Regional Hospital are now using gardens as a way to enrich patient experiences, while workplaces such as the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Thunder Bay District Health Unit have planted gardens as a means to engage staff and grow produce for use in programs.

More and more people are showing an interest in local action that will increase both personal and overall community food security. Engagement in community gardens is one component of this. Growing awareness about losses in pollinator populations—particularly bees and butterflies—seems to be driving people in urban areas to plant species that provide food for pollinators (pollinator friendly plants) such as in community gardens, backyard gardens, or dedicated pollinator gardens. There has also been a surge in the number of people purchasing locally produced seeds. According to Superior Seed Producers, people want to buy seeds that are adapted to our climate and because they believe that local production and control of our seed supply is an important condition of community food security.

Individuals and organizations are pushing boundaries within urban areas in terms of how and where food can be grown. The Court Street Edible Food Forest and EcoSuperior’s Edible Bus Stop are two recent examples of how access to fresh food can be improved by growing food in small underutilized areas. Both are also examples of novel partnerships between community organizations and the city to create projects that beautify areas and provide a service. This move towards using underutilized space is also occurring at the home level, as residents are starting to grow food on front yards and even boulevards.

Anecdotal evidence suggests a growing interest in raising small numbers of livestock (particularly hens for egg production) and bees in urban areas. Historically, raising food in urban places was very common but over the past fifty years most forms of agriculture have been pushed out to rural areas. In recent years, this trend appears to be slowly reversing.

There is potential to raise a lot more food in urban areas. Production on urban lots, park spaces, and institutional grounds is nowhere near capacity. There are currently no known rooftop gardens or urban farms. To date, support for urban agriculture
has been offered in an ad hoc way. Policy that is supportive of urban agriculture, dedicated staff time, an urban agriculture coordinator, demonstration projects, workshops and other educational tools would go a long way in expanding awareness and participation in urban agriculture. A variety of initiatives are needed to involve more individuals, families, organizations and businesses in this movement towards bringing food production back into urban areas.