Using a simple modular system built from milk crates, a new Toronto nonprofit plans to convert vacant city lots into instantly mobile urban farms that can supply neighborhoods with local produce.
“We both live in downtown Toronto and kept seeing vacant lots—some places that have been empty for five years,” says Rachel Kimel, who cofounded The Bowery Project with Deena DelZotto. “The idea started organically: What would it take to grow food there?”
The Bowery Project will work with the city and developers to temporarily lease empty lots, following in the footsteps of projects like San Francisco's Nomad Gardens and Hayes Valley Farm. “If developers buy a piece of land, usually there’s a long period of time where the land sits vacant until they’ve gotten permits, finished their designs, and raised the money they need,” Kimel explains. “We’re hoping to be kind of a transformative application for an interim project for these lots.”
A third of the food will go to local hunger organizations, a third will go to the volunteers that help work on the farm, and the last third will be sold to local chefs to help the organization support itself. They expect that chefs will request specific food items that are otherwise difficult to get in Toronto, such as shishito peppers.
The pair met while volunteering at a greenhouse for local food access organization called The Stop, and wanted to help urban farming spread throughout the city. “We love the energy that comes along with growing food,” Kimel says. “We wanted to engage the community and transform a part of the neighborhood that would otherwise be left as concrete and weeds.”
Everything will be cultivated in 12-by-12-inch milk crates, which helps alleviate concerns that the soil on the site is toxic or contaminated. Crates are also more mobile, says Kimel—5,000 can be moved in a few hours. “It’s like a barn raising, but for a whole farm,” she says. “You get together and relocate an entire farm’s worth of food.”