Increase food production across the urban landscape and support the participation of residents in urban agriculture activities.

What Are the Issues Around Urban Agriculture in the Thunder Bay Area?

Most of our food grows on farms in rural areas, yet food production can be a thriving part of urban environments as well. Historically, gardens were a prominent feature within cities, with many people relying on gardens to grow some of their own food. Changing urban culture and farming practices over the past 50 years has made growing food in the city, and especially raising small livestock, less common.

In recent years, the re-emergence of urban agriculture (including urban farming, backyard, and community gardening) has taken Canada by storm. An increasing number of people are looking for ways to produce more of the food they eat in an effort to be more economical and health conscious, to foster a deeper connection to food and to nature, and to improve their neighbourhoods.

Not-for-profit organizations, schools, and hospitals have also caught the urban agriculture bug and are using food for a wide range of purposes such as youth engagement and education, creating therapeutic spaces, seizing niche business opportunities in urban centres, and building community.

The resurgence of urban agriculture has pushed the boundaries of possibility in terms of where and how food is grown. Gardens now exist on rooftops and herbs are being grown in hydroponics operations in schools. Beekeepers are starting apiaries in backyards and aquaponics operations are getting their start in warehouses. Greenhouses are being built as vertical structures and on industrial sites, and urban farms are being cultivated on university grounds. Pollinator gardens are popping up everywhere, and forest foods are being cultivated in city parks.

The benefits of urban agriculture are extensive. Integrating agriculture into the urban realm builds a lively and healthy landscape while fostering a deeper understanding of where food comes from. It creates more opportunities for residents to access healthy, affordable food, while providing opportunities for community members to share knowledge about the relationship between their cultures and health. Creating vibrant green space contributes to the mental health and general well-being of urban residents, and activities such as planting and harvesting can provide an important form of regular exercise.

Urban agriculture is a way to engage local residents in the stewardship of their neighbourhood’s green spaces and their urban environment more broadly. Expanding urban spaces for food production can be used as a tool for turning underutilized spaces into productive ones, and deteriorating lots into vibrant community gathering spaces. Physical improvements to the environment enhance community safety, decreasing the need for policing and municipal maintenance of blighted properties.

Growing food close to home contributes to a more equitable and sustainable city. Not only does it shorten the distance that food travels, but it can be leveraged for waste water management, soil remediation, and to improve biodiversity and pollinator habitats. People who grow food are more likely to see food as a resource and divert food waste from landfills to composting. Urban agriculture builds climate resiliency by reducing individual reliance on imported foods. According to an increasing number of urban planners, bringing nature back into cities is essential to fostering sustainable urban ecosystems.

Measures of urban agriculture

Urban agriculture can improve access to healthy food, knowledge sharing opportunities, physical activity, and refreshing the urban landscape. These indicators highlight details about community gardens, urban agriculture and small-scale livestock production in urban settings.

Measures of urban agriculture education

What do the 2022 Urban Agriculture Indicators Tell Us?

Urban agriculture is thriving in the Thunder Bay area. Through continued participation in urban agricultural activities, people and organizations are showing their interest in local action to increase access to fresh food, enhance the environment and build a stronger sense of community.

Community gardens continue to be one of the most active types of urban agriculture across the region. Most commonly, community gardens are located in neighbourhoods across the city and are divided into individual plots for residents to use to grow food during the growing season. Roots Community Food Centre, as well as Confederation College and Lakehead University host larger plot-style community gardens to give community members an opportunity to grow food and get connected to their communities.

Several organizations, including the Salvation Army and Willow Springs Creative Centre, have also established community gardens as a way to build community, to grow fresh food to use in their programming, and to supply healthy food for low-income residents. Institutions such as the Thunder Bay Regional Hospital use gardens to enrich patient experiences, while workplaces such as the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks and the Thunder Bay District Health Unit have established gardens to engage staff and grow produce for use in programs.

Many Elementary and Secondary Schools continue to engage students and contribute to skill development through the use of school gardens. Students can participate in growing, harvesting and preparing fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables in classes and at special events. The data shows that access to community and school gardens was reduced between 2020-2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but recent data, along with reports from members of the Thunder Bay + Area Food Strategy, suggest that there appears to be a strong re-engagement with community gardening in 2022. Another positive trend across some school boards is the growth of land-based education programs, such as Kendomang Zhagodenamnon Lodge (KZ Lodge), that support hands-on learning and cultural teachings with students and the broader community.

Growing awareness about the loss of pollinator populations (e.g., bees and butterflies) is driving many people in urban areas to include native plant species that provide food for pollinators (e.g., milkweed, fireweed, yarrow, goldenrod, etc.) in community gardens, backyard gardens, or dedicated pollinator gardens. In 2022, the City of Thunder Bay made changes to the Yard Maintenance By-laws (now the Clean and Clear Yards By-law) to encourage food and pollinator-friendly practices.

Households are also taking a more active role in urban agriculture through the growth of backyard vegetable gardens, primarily driven by food access concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. One important indicator of this interest is the increased sales of locally produced seeds. Since 2015, there has been an 800% increase in the number of locally produced seeds sold through two established local seed producer businesses. 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 continue to push 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 examples of how access to fresh food can be improved by growing food in small, underutilized areas. Both are also examples of fruitful partnerships between community organizations, citizens and the municipality to create projects that beautify areas and provide a valuable service. There has also been a 50% increase in the number of residents offering up their urban fruit produce to organizations for gleaning, such as apples for the ‘Bay City Cider’ processed and sold by Roots Community Food Centre.

Historically, raising animals for food in urban places was very common but recently, most forms of animal agriculture have been forced into rural areas. Some livestock production (e.g.rabbits and apiaries) still exist in urban areas, but it is limited due to zoning restrictions. The biggest urban agriculture change since 2015 is the addition of two large urban farms established and operated by Roots Community Food Centre with support from the City of Thunder Bay and Lakehead District Schools. These urban farms offer employment programs, greenhouses, seed production, and produce for food access programming and public sale, as well as community garden plots.

Interest in regionally available and foraged forest and freshwater foods also permeates into our urban areas as evidenced by continued interest in foraging and sustainable harvesting workshops. There is also an observed trend of an increased number of workshops, programs and events with an Indigenous food sovereignty focus. For example, a growing number of hide-tanning workshops are being offered regionally, bringing renewed interest in this practice.

Despite these recent improvements, there is still a lot of potential to grow and raise more food in urban areas. To date, support for urban agriculture has been offered in an ad hoc way. Municipal policies that are supportive of urban agriculture include dedicated staff time for garden coordinators, demonstration projects, community workshops and other educational tools to expand awareness and encourage participation. A variety of partnerships and initiatives are needed to involve more individuals, families, organizations and businesses to bring food production back into urban areas.

EcoSuperior's "Edible Bus Stop" on Red River Road
Infographic: 17 community gardens operating 388 garden plots - 32 percent less than in 2015
A plot in a community garden
Infographic:  5 people grew seeds and 3,907 seed packages were sold through Superior Seed Producers
Image of swiss chard growing on the Lillie St. urban farm

Urban Agriculture Highlights

Locally-Grown Seeds

Superior Seed Producers
A collective of local Thunder Bay area growers who promote the saving and distribution of locally adapted, sustainably grown, open-pollinated non-GMO seeds

Read More

Field of Greens

Salvation Army Journey to Life Centre
A community garden that helps people to develop their gardening and kitchen skills and make connections with the community

Read More

2022 Urban Agriculture References

  1. Ng, Vincent. (2022). Thunder Bay District Health Unit. Personal Communication.
  2. Ng, Vincent. (2022). Thunder Bay District Health Unit. Personal Communication.
  3. Thunder Bay + Area Food Strategy. (2022). Community Food Security Database.
  4. Stephens, Airin. (2022). Roots Community Food Centre. Personal Communication.
  5. Moir, Erin. (2022). EcoSuperior. Personal Communication.
  6. Thunder Bay + Area Food Strategy. (2022). Community Food Security Database.
  7. Moir, Erin. (2022). EcoSuperior. Personal Communication.
  8. Thunder Bay + Area Food Strategy. (2022). Community Food Security Database.
  9. Stephens, Airin. (2022). Roots Community Food Centre. Personal Communication.
  10. McGibbon, Kim. (2022). Roots Community Food Centre. Personal Communication.
  11. McGibbon, Kim. (2022). Roots Community Food Centre. Personal Communication.
  12. McGibbon, Kim. (2022). Roots Community Food Centre. Personal Communication.
  13. Thunder Bay + Area Food Strategy. (2022). Community Food Security Database.
  14. Thunder Bay + Area Food Strategy. (2022). Community Food Security Database.