Urban Ag Summit Recap: It’s about growing the soil

Last week’s urban agriculture summit brought together producers, eaters, gardeners, dreamers and heroes. Two of the many hero’s was Will Allen and his daughter Erika. They presented early in the morning – Will on Thursday Erika on Friday – and started their presentation with a slide that featured a persons hand full of soil and the message that it all starts with soil. That really spoke to me – particularly when Erika made the analogy of soil as our social, cultural and emotional environment. To make a great movement, build leaders and support (and be supported by) community so much lies in the ability to communicate needs, boundaries, desires and recognize privilege and what that means to food growing in the city.

Wayne Roberts at the conclusion of the summit spoke about the motivations that bring the many groups to the table. He spoke how folks from urban agriculture (as opposed to commercial greenhouse or green roof etc.) often, but not always, came from a place of social justice. There is such a desire to make food access a possibility for more people in a way that is equitable and barrier free.  Meg McCallum from Centre Towns Citizens Ottawa Corporation demonstrated the power of green space in social housing. Many of the social housing units in Ottawa come with patio planters or garden beds on the roof. The benefit of having a shared space, a topic of conversation and something to share builds strong bonds within these housing complexes. Her team is currently undertaking data collection to quantify how these initiatives support the residents – it’s worth keeping an eye out for that report!

There was many other passionate community gardeners determined to give opportunities for new Canadians, troubled youth, lonely seniors or anyone who just needed some beauty around them and perhaps a fresh tomato.  My take away from the summit was what power a garden, an urban farm or a planter box can have for people if we give them the space, empowerment, resources where needed and step back because good things grow in good environments and good soil.

By: Jessica Lemieux, Member Farmer Coordinator and Member Farmer