Urban agriculture initiatives are sprouting up in new Toronto condos

Featuring in-suite micro garden beds, greenhouses and community plots, Toronto's new condo developments hope to inspire residents to grow their own food


Part of the attraction of living in a condo near Queen West is the abundance of restaurants right outside your door. But a new development is hoping to inspire residents to not only cook, but also to grow their own food. The Plant is a 74-unit condo by Curated Properties and Windmill Development Group scheduled for completion in 2020. Like its name suggests, its focus is on nature and creating opportunities for green space for its residents. 

“While community gardens and rooftop gardens are not new to Toronto’s multi-residential communities, there’s another layer of integration that can ensure the city’s ongoing condo boom ends up more green than grey,” says Jonathan Westeinde, CEO of Windmill. “Being able to grow your own food where you live has always been how humans lived.”

Urban agriculture amenities at The Plant include an internal greenhouse to cultivate seeds and act as a nursery for new plants. Each suite will incorporate micro garden beds for fresh herbs and a terrace or balcony for growing crops. Additionally, suites are built wide and shallow to maximize sun exposure indoors. 

“Balconies and terraces are more like an eight-storey porch,” explains Westeinde. “They have their own structure, with railings and lattices, as well as a thermal break, so they’re orientated to work with the sun and encourage plant life to take hold.”

Another model for urban agriculture is presented at The Logan, a new six-storey condo in Leslieville developed by Daniels. Its rooftop will be an urban oasis complete with seating, a barbecue and six garden plots shared by residents in 59 units. 

The plots are not owned by the condo corporation and can’t be purchased with a unit. Instead, Daniels hopes they’ll encourage community engagement as residents grow fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers with the help of urban gardening consultants.

Lara Mrosovsky, a Toronto gardener, artist and author of An Illustrated Guide To Growing Food On Your Balcony, has seen first-hand how urban agriculture initiatives can bring communities together. She’s spent the last eight years shepherding Access Alliance’s 6,000-square-foot green roof above AccessPoint on the Danforth, the first community health centre in Ontario to have a food-producing intensive green roof.

“There’s so much interest in this topic because there are not enough garden spaces on the ground, and a higher percentage of people in our city live in apartments,” Mrosovsky says.

While Toronto’s Green Roof Bylaw requires new residential developments greater than six storeys and 2,000 square metres in gross floor area construct a green roof or pay a penalty, Mrosovsky notes that the bylaw doesn’t denote that the roofs should be accessible or be made to support soil depths that support food production.

“Roofs need to include safety fencing so we can go on them,” she says. “We have to push developers to go above and beyond the minimum requirement and to create public access and build deeper planter beds where residents can grow food.”

Most vegetables are grown in deeper soil around seven inches, so as an alternative to gardening plots, Mrosovsky champions container gardens. Her forthcoming book, Grow Without A Garden: 101 Plants For Containers, features detailed illustrations and instructions for growing plants in pots, patios and balconies that feed people as well as pollinators. 

“If you don’t have a lot of sun, sticking to salads and herbs is great,” Mrosovsky adds. “If you have sun, there are lots of tomato varieties and chili peppers you can grow.”

Mrosovsky will launch her book on April 28 at Allan Gardens Children’s Conservatory as part of Green Thumbs Growing Kids’ 20th anniversary. Attendees will have a chance to shop for seedlings and plants, meet the author and pick up the book. 

As interest in urban gardening – whether on the ground, balcony or roof – continues to take root, Mrosovsky hopes to see more condo developers cultivate meaningful experiences for residents. 

“There’s a wide range of intentions from developers when it comes to urban agriculture,” she says. “If developers start to see some of the benefits, they may realize it’s in their interest, too, to put bigger planters and garden plots on buildings, or even create space on the ground.”

@michdas

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