Meet Your Maker: Farmer Phil
My fiance had been talking with Ran about his business plan, and she suggested that him and I meet for coffee because of my background in landscape architecture. At that time, I was starting my own landscape architecture firm, one of the services being the design of urban and rooftop agriculture sites. One thing led to another... and many months and dates later, I postponed the development of my firm to assist with the birth of Fresh City.
What attracted you to city farming?
City dwellers are naturally less connected to food and the environment. As a farmer, you jump for joy when it's raining, but in the city a rainy day is only really seen as a nuisance, not an integral part of our existence. There is a disconnect. I loved the idea of bringing that respect for our planet to Toronto, in a very tangible way for people. The fact that they can TTC to visit a farm and see farmers at work transforming the land and harvesting their dinner brings new awareness to food and a new connection to our Earth, which is the most important thing.
I also have a strong belief about city farming being a career path, and not just funded by grants and donations. We wanted to build a business that was sustainable in itself and also promoted entrepreneurial thinking with our member farmers. If we want to encourage farming as a way of life, we need to show people that you can earn a living at it.
What is your role on the farm?
I am the farm manager. I am responsible for everything fresh city grows, and for the continued success of the member farmers program throughout their crop planning and growing season.
Since you began farming with Fresh City, what are some of the challenges you've experienced as a farmer?
The challenges I've faced are extensive. Some were expected and many were not expected at all. A significant farm challenge has been utilizing soil which is very poor in health and form, a challenge to many city farmers. We have had to find new ways to improve soil, while continuing to create some kind of revenue from these marginal soils. Each year our soil improves, but we've had the challenge of bringing healthy bacteria and life back into this highly disturbed, and compacted soil.
The other significant challenge I have faced has been managing the extreme diversity in personalities and lifestyles amongst our member farmers. Maintaining a healthy balance of friendship, support, and authority has been very challenging for me, but experiencing the progress of our member farmers that are continuing to farm with us next year as Senior member farmers has made the stresses of this challenge worth it. These people are learning how to farm the city , and it is incredibly rewarding, knowing that they will each continue to do so, after their time at Fresh City, in their own individual ways
Some of the rewards?
Getting to see all of the member farmers go though their own unique journey and experience the highs and lows of a growing season (mental and physical drain), but ultimately walk away with a full appreciation for what it takes to grow food and pride in their accomplishments – this is very rewarding.
The Fresh City family continues to grow - in this community of member farmers, customers, and supporters, ideas are shared, people are inspired, and great change is taking place. It is rewarding simply to be a part of this change.
You've been with Fresh City from the start... what are some of the biggest changes you've witnessed?
The biggest change I have witnessed so far has been the increase in awareness about urban agriculture. When we started 4 years ago, it seemed that the words urban agriculture were not common place. There was definitely a growing interest in North America, but the buzz had not quite hit Toronto yet. Now we have applications for interning almost every week. It seems city farming is taking off in a very fast way.
What are your goals as a farmer, and where do you see yourself in 10 years?
My goals are to always put the health of the natural ecosystem before my own needs. If we do this, we are truly farming sustainably. The needs of our environment must come before our own if we are going to restore this planet to a point where it can support our growing population.
In 10 years I hope to have a small gaggle of mini Collins' getting groomed to take over the farm for when I'm too stiff and grumpy to farm anymore. They will be of a high ecological literacy, growing up in a highly productive food forest, and will take that natural education to the world in their own way.
What is your favourite vegetable?
Anything that thrives perennially in our temperate Ontario climate devoid of human interference. I like fruit and nuts a lot. Eat a brassica everyday!
Anything else you'd like to share!
Thank you ALL for your support. We could not have accomplished our goals without the support of our members. Please continue to live your values and spend your food dollars ethically. It is incredibly important and is greatly appreciated by us, and our planet.