Toronto should adopt a robust food policy that expands access to health food and reduces barriers to increasing urban agriculture on private and public land.
Pros: A comprehensive food policy has been proposed by the City staff, action plan already developed, quick wins by removing urban agriculture bylaws; can act as a small-step towards combating food deserts – especially in low income areas.
Cons: Costs of implementation to city staff including feasibility studies, inspecting larger gardens, and capital and maintenance expenditures; could deter public buy-in.
Out of all the big ideas, adopting and implementing progressive food policies may be both the easiest and cheapest to achieve. The main components of a food strategy consist of increasing urban agriculture, encouraging healthy eating, and reducing the environmental impact that widespread agriculture has on the environment while simultaneously maximizing the capacity of urban greenspace. Converting surplus land to food production could have a transformative effect on the city’s economy, environment, culture, and public health.
Increased agricultural production in the city could produce a local, low-cost and high quality food for residents as transportation costs are all but eliminated. This food could also be incorporated by local schools, community centres, and food banks – adding essential health food to areas where access to produce is currently limited due to cost and availability barriers. Garden beds provide environmental benefits through their intake of CO2 emissions, reduction of localized urban heat islands, and naturalizing previously industrial sites such as parking lots, concrete squares, and dead spaces in and around major infrastructure elements. Instead of fields of grass we would enjoy a landscape that is representative of the best of urbanity and the best of rural country living. Coupled with the natural landscapes associated with our ravines and you have a truly diverse and unique cityscape. Many cities across North America are already supporting this goal, and Toronto is actively encouraging this movement, but largely on a piecemeal volunteer basis.
Despite the widespread benefits of urban agricultural policies, several barriers remain to widespread implementation. These include existing bylaws that prohibit agricultural and farming on residential land, the costs of building new beds and remediating contaminated soil, and questions of who will cover long-term maintenance of plots on publicly owned land.
Image credit: Alice Henneman, Flickr creative commons