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Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Urban Agriculture Summit, Toronto, Aug15-18, 2012

Urban Agriculture Summit, Toronto, Aug15-18, 2012

Talks and presentations that I attended
Day 1
Toured "Growing Food, Growing Health - Rooftop Healing Garden and Greenhouse Tour"
The ex YMCA building was renovated or reincarnated into a cheerful and clean, Canadian building.  People are very happy inside.  I liked the Long House on the ground floor and the roof top sweat lodge.  Our host kindly took us around to see the various aspects of the interior architecture, and did a simple smudging rite for all of us.  It was very nicely presented.  The incense they used was white sage.  The insense smelled a bit like Chinese pomelo skin.  She said sometimes they do "power smudge" this means its a quicky  sign into the air and thats sufficient.  Its very nice.  The kitchen counter below had a counter made of very beautiful niagara escarpment stone plaque.  The same stone was used in some buildings at Ryerson.

Then we went to the Wychwood Barn, where community garden was presented as a therapeutic space.  The three girls who presented the space were very nice.  But I wonder who would want to come do gardening if its announced as "therapeutic"?  Why can't they just say its for relaxation and fun?  It would cheer the whole place up and not make it so heavy.  The way it was explained, it made the place institutional and structured.  There were multicultural community gardens, Chinese gardens, Italian Tibetan, Polish, etc etc... all giant size flowers and magnificent.  Chinese garden looked like any front yard in the Annexe area, with purple mint, some tomatillo, some kind of peas.  Italian had fig, tomatoes etc etc.  All typical of the ethnic food vegetables and there were phone numbers you could call to listen to the stories linked to the garden.  Its an art project that seems fun.  The biggest draw is not the multimedia art but the vegetables themselves!

In the afternoon I saw the talk by Ben Flanner on Introduction to Rooftop Urban Agriculture Course.  Everybody had to present themselves.  I said I was a free lance writer for glossy magazines and i like to grow things.  

Here is a sample of what I grew a few years back, purple sweet potatoes - after one summer, i got three fingers of roots and lots of leaves, I had done nothing to water, no weeding, did nothing and what excitement to see there was something growing!  We ate the leaves - sweet potato leaves are v nice greens.  The roots, are jewels that we displayed.  

Also, I am visiting prof in Taiwan.  Little do i know because of what i said here, I found two very charming young people from Louisianna  - Carla Sue and Kyle Craig - who came to speak to me later - 3 days later - of their horticulture passion and their love of Taiwan.  

Human pee/night soil for fertilizer 

I  was puzzled by the conference that everybody talked about fertilizer making rich soil, "closing the loop" in eco cycles etc, but nobody mentioned about very obvious and well known ancient practice of using human pee/night soil for fertilizer - is it not good?  Could it be in our modern day, we are so full of poison already that our own "produce" is not good enough?   Or is it just general squeamishness to do with this slightly too earthy way of approaching things?  

In the evening was the FoodShare First Nation food Neighbourhood Garden Party.  It was truly nice, I like their garden next to the school with two wooden lawn chair, and the vegetable garden was a little wild - beautiful the way it is.

Grilled fresh corn, and many other little special hors-d'euvre type sandwich, petits mets. But most lovely was the maple syrup molasses wrapped around a 5 year old white cheddar  cube.  Its a one mouthful at a time snack.  Very very good!  Many people showed up, the gym was full of people!  Wild berries with yogurt and granola... etc etc.  and the sun was setting we all sat outside on the garden lawn chairs.  Very nice.

Took many pictures.
There is something very convivial in the air.

Day 2  Thurs 16Aug2012

Listened to Will Allen who wrote a book on Growing Power.  He is a very good speaker, full of vitality and common sense.  He researched a red wriggle worm, cultivated a quick way of producing good compost for high quality soil.  The taste of food is in the soil, he repeated many times during  his talk.  And the soil is what makes the difference.  He is growing soil.  He showed little children with two hands full of wriggling worms.  His strategy for revitalizing dead vacant lots and driving drug dealers away from derelict lots  is magnificent.  It truly shows energy, commitment, and results.  Its hard to not like him.  I asked to have a photo with him - which i rarely do with even v gd speakers.  And when I stood next to him, I realized he's a giant size guy, my head comes to his armpits... so to speak.  Anyway, he was very kind and experienced with people asking to have pictures taken with him, i suppose.  :)
Hats off to him!!  

Netherlands policy for greening the land.

Trade show had many types of new agriculture planting furnitures, hanging pots, folding staircase for vertical walls, soil, new teas, everything.

Book signing at city hall.
Dinner buffet was different kinds of dips w radish, celery, carrots, loose bits of breads, tiny pita pouches, berries, skewers of tomatoes and cucumbers courtesy of Lufa farm.  V gd.

Visited City Hall green roof top.

Had to leave early. 

Day 3 17Aug2012
Growing and Selling World Crops in the City
nice how to grow book, by a charming young lady presenter, Emily Van Halem,
Chinese veggie new farmer Amy Cheng of Red Pocket farm,  showed her crops and talked about her Chinese food culture background and how it works w her farm lot at Downsview park.  Very good.

Coffee, excellent banana bread, cookies by food team of the conference.

The Art of Edible/Medicinal Public Garden

The Art of Edible/Medicinal Public Garden
by artist Topher Delaney.

Topher is a an experienced pro, she explained about the conception, the funding source, where to get funding.  But above all her resources of getting the commissions are based on long term personal work relations which dates from when she started out at 20 - over 40ish years, she is amongst the few who has gained support from friends in right places.    Answered questions very skillfully.  I enjoy this presentation very much.  Her work is prim and proper.  Humorous at times, human and everyday.  Though I didn't see why we use glass for Mulch on planters and the overall installation is rather cold and not very friendly to plants.  There was a formality in the giant size pots and graphics, but the space is not at all warm and the space has very little vegetation charm. 

I have visited many times the french Chaumont-sur-Loire Garden Festival over the years, and this type of installations are in the vein of contemporary art + gardening.  Often, the standard installation by installation artists are a conceptual formalist idea - without anything sympathetic to plants.  It is intended as a visual post card type formal esthetic display - whether you like it or not - and set in a style of arid formality.  There is a problem when a garden is made for one season and then destroyed of the next.  That is why you get "window display" type of work.  Whereas a real landscape artist would work out the plants and these, I often wish could stay for several seasons so that we could see the growth and changes.

The garden presented here did not provide any room for "messy" human interactions, nor much room for the public to do, say, spending some time to read on a lawn chair in the sun.  

Maybe there is some issue with maintenance?  If you have no maintenance your garden won't be able to last, hence you get an arid low maintenance mummy styled display.

However, i like the way she talked about her medicinal garden where people come up to inspect the produce - even take them home!! Its good that its on the sidewalk and is very accessible.   And when you have people interacting, then that is a living garden!

I like the idea of an Accessible Edible/Medicinal public garden.

Summit closing ceremony, and BBQ at the Wychwood barn.

So finally today was the closing ceremony.  It was in the Sears room, high ceiling, beautiful volume and very sober sponsors names not the white bricks as the back drop.

Ryerson has changed from a Technical College to a beautiful University.  

Story of the Giant Elk - 
hunting of a flown in giant elk designed as an amusement game for The Man, and ended up heavenly food from above for the people.

Mr. Patrick Nadjiwan, a First Nation Canadian (here: some background stories about First Nation Canadians) closed the event with a simple story about food and a prayer.  He also did smudging for the 4 people on the podium - because he couldn't do that for everyone because there is no time and besides - he joked - it would set the fire alarm off.  :)

He told the story of how the government had some land reserved for his people by the great lakes.  This land was also very nice and used for important people to do hunting every now and then.  One day, the prime minister/premier was supposed to come hunting, so somebody planned to have a giant size elk so that there would be this elk to be hunted - as there were no elks in the area normally - so they flew the elk in for the hunt.  But the previous night, the people decided to go do food gathering and they saw this giant size elk never seen before and hunted it, hauled it home for food.  Next day when the prime minister came to do the hunting, he didn't find his elk. 

Then we all waited to hear the rest, the audience of around 300 people of multi ethnic colors in this great hall, he continued and said, well just thought I would share this with you.  :)

I think this is such a great story and concludes very well the 3 day conference.

Wychwood barn had very nice beer, ice cream, hamburger, grilled corn and v nice tall ceiling space, where people could sit leisurely.  Its a fine evening.

And I left thinking, yes, this is a very successful conference.

I should grow something on my balcony and make a v detail record of my Urban Agricultural Efforts.

I would want to grow unusual species - to toil this much I would want to see something very special.  It has to be better than what you could buy from Loblaws - in price and quality. Might not even be food. 

I might want to grow flowers, medicinal and ornamental plants because people are cheered by beautiful living things.  Special bonsais, miniature bamboos etc.  Or purple finger sweet potatoes, salt-field green tomatoes, beef heart black tomatoes, jeweled-multi color corns... etc.

I will show you the results next year as I have one season of lead time to do this experiment.

This conference inspired me to go from idea to doing - I came home and talked nonstop  about this to my sister- as we have a 300 ft long back yard, enough to tried to grow something, and if I install some vertical planters, that would make it a tiny vegetable garden.  However, what to do about bugs, snails, the natural enemy of plants?  Will my plants survive these natural little disasters ?

A lady - Maria Kasstan, - from seed exchange gave me a how to save seeds pamphlet, I read it on the subway.  I didn't know this is how we save seeds!  So, I will remember to save good seeds starting today.

Stay tuned!

I will begin with my balcony - start small.
See how far I get.

Balcony Urban Agriculture Project 2012

A medicinal garden
worm bins
composting :

visited Food Share and Mike Nevin kindly helped me start a little "worm house".
Food Share specialist for instructions on setting up "worm house":

Plants started:
coconut tree
purple sweet potato
(investigating, research on other easy to grow things )

First try in Nov 2006, purple sweet potatoes from a market bought root, 
produced 5 slips and over one summer, lots of leaves, and only these 
three purple fingers.  Planted in some side strip of a 4" earth depth.
Did not look after it at all, its live or die.  
The purple sweet potatoes just grew by themselves.

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