The terms “local” and “fresh” are near ubiquitous these days when discussing food quality. But how local is local, and how fresh is fresh?
“If you buy a Fresh City Farm box, you could actually be getting food delivered that was pulled out of the ground that morning,” explains Ran Goel. He’s seated at a muddy picnic table in the Downsview Park greenhouse that serves as headquarters of Fresh City Farms. Behind him, rows of spinach, lettuce, arugula and mustard greens sprout from planters, waiting to become salad mix.
The 32-year-old Torontonian took a leave of absence from his job as a corporate lawyer last September to co-found this urban farming business with the help of his friend, sustainable landscape architect Phillip Collins.
The concept of the enterprise is unique: Toronto residents who want to become urban farmers contact Fresh City Farms and receive training and advice about growing food in the city. Next, the farmer canvasses his or her neighbourhood for homeowners willing to give up their lawn space. The farmer then plants and harvests on the homeowner’s property, providing the owner with ten percent of the yield in exchange for the use of their land and water.
“It’s a win-win for the homeowners, says Goel of the twenty or so downtown Toronto lawns the company has harvested. “They get landscaping, free produce, and a microgarden.”
The rest of the produce is then sold to Fresh City Farms, where it is packed into old wooden wine crates lined with recycled burlap sacks and delivered to whoever has ordered it ($49.99 for a two week trial; $30.99 per week onwards). Boxes usually contain eight to 10 varieties of produce, and the contents are supplemented with food grown at the two-acre Downsview Park farm, as well from other local organic sources when necessary.
At its core, the fundamental purpose of Fresh City Farms is to reduce the barriers to starting an urban farming business. But ask Goel, and he’ll tell you it does much more than that. “One of the byproducts has been the subversive public education aspect,” says Goel. “We’re farming in people’s yards, and in the communities of people who might not otherwise be environmentalists.
These young people are learning how to farm, but they’re also teaching others about food, and changing our food production systems could be the answer to a good chunk of our planet’s environmental issues.”