A block north of a forgettable stretch of land occupied by used car lots, a rogue Coffee Time-ish donut shop and a recently failed church with a now ironic "Jesus Saves" neon sign, people are harvesting tomatoes under the hum of high-voltage towers.
The 20 or so plots on Old Weston just north of St. Clair, the Silverthorn Hydro Land Allotment Gardens, fall under the jurisdiction of the city's parks department, as do 11 other allotment gardens around the city.
But it seems more appropriate to say they fall under the city's radar.
The size of these minuscule farms vary, as do their locations, and it seems the only constant is that they are next to impossible to find.
Given the shift to healthier food and the en vogue greening of our lives, why isn't the city encouraging its freshly green-thumbed citizenry to grow organic veggies, experience the joys of the outdoors and socialize a little with like-minded gardening enthusiasts at local allotment gardens?
Even www.toronto.ca offers inadequate info on how the plots work or where they are. Potential gardeners are left to piece together scraps of information from community websites like that of the Friends of Dufferin Grove or personal blogs.
"There is rather limited information on the site," admits parks supervisor of customer service Mark Lawson. He explains that when he took over in 1998, around the time of amalgamation, allotment gardens were in administrative chaos.
"I would hear horror stories of people who'd been trying to get a plot for five years," he says, noting that the department has fixed a slew of inconsistencies related to waiting lists, pricing, services and plot size.
He adds that the job is ongoing. "We need to do a better job of advertising these plots," but he can't give a time frame for when residents can expect that to happen.
In fact, Lawson was initially unable to provide the names and locations of allotment gardens, adjusting their number to nine and then back to 12.
It would be wrong to say Toronto just doesn't care any more, but allotment gardens seem to be dinosaurs of early- and mid-20th-century life. No one, it seems, has rethought them in the modern context.
Community gardens, on the other hand, occupy a greater share of the urban planting landscape. "These are structured differently, as they are community-initiated and community-managed," explains Gerda Wekerle, a prof in York U's faculty of environmental studies and an expert on city agriculture. Allotments, she says, are more individualistic and regulated.
Even the term stirs a bleak image of postwar rationing and handouts. Everyone wants to be in a "community," but "allotment" is something you need to survive.
Regardless, T.O.'s allotments, without fanfare or farmers' markets, remain full. For some, including Europeans used to the Old World allotment system established in Britain and Germany for generations, the gardens are so built in to the weave of daily life that Lawson gets asked if the plots can be bequeathed to loved ones. (They can't.)
So why isn't the city running ads in shelters promoting this eco food source. Wekerle thinks she has an answer. "Thinking like a bureaucrat, if you have 1,617 spaces and they're all full, why would you advertise them?" she says.
"Why would you want to encourage more people to apply for plots if you don't have the land?"
And there's the rub. The city has no strategy to procure more allotment real estate. Still, while the parks department can't provide stats on demand, allotments have been getting easier to obtain because this generation of gardeners is getting too old to till the land. Even the prized High Park location only had two names carried over from last year's waiting list.
The manageable $53.50 annual permit fee more than covers the city's costs of maintaining the gardens, many of which are on undesirable leased Hydro lands or otherwise difficult-to-develop terrain.
If you plan to snag a patch, circle February 1 on your calendar. You have to be on the ball and dial the city's permit section (416-392-8188), endure a delay and put your name on a waiting list for your plot choices. If all goes well, you'll owe the city $53.50 and have a patch of rototilled earth come May.
PLOTS TO GROW BY
? Bishop , at Finch and Bayview
? Daventry , at Brimorton and Markham
? Four Winds , at Four Winds and Keele
? Givendale , at Lawrence and Kennedy
? High Park , at Bloor and Parkside
? Jonesville , at Victoria Park and Eglinton
? Leslie Spit , Leslie south of Commissioners
? Riverlea , an indoor allotment garden operating through the winter
? Silverthorn Hydro Lands , at St. Clair and Old Weston
? Stoffel , Stoffel Drive, near Dixon and Highway 27
? West Deane , at Rathburn and Martin Grove
? York Gardens , at St. Clair and Jane