“The Agri-Cultural Imagination: Ideas of the Future of Agriculture and Their Impact on the Present”
James M Flaherty Research Scholarship 2018/19 Visit Report
Name: Stuart Lang
Home Institution: Maynooth University
Institution Visited: University of Toronto
Date of Visit: June 2019
Title of Research:
The Agri-Cultural Imagination: Ideas of the Future of Agriculture and Their Impact on the Present
Field of Study: Anthropology
Details of Visit:
I spent just under a month in Toronto, in that time I made some great connections and experienced the city. I arrived in late May, just ahead of the tourist season which according to the locals is around the middle of June. Toronto is the largest city I have ever spent a significant period of time in so the first week there was a little daunting but after getting a handle on the public transport and the general feel of the city I was in my element. By the end of the first week I had gotten into the swing of my research fieldwork. I visited a number of places during my travels around the city. My itinerary included visiting some tourist attractions, such as the CN Tower and Toronto Island, but obviously my main focus was places I identified as potentially helpful to my research on urban agriculture. Various forms of urban agriculture are present in Toronto which makes it a perfect city to investigate how people are thinking about growing food in an urbanised environment. Two I think readers might find of particular interest were Ryerson University’s rooftop farm and Black Creek Community Farm.
Ryerson University is based in the city centre, much like the University of Toronto. On the top of one of their buildings on Church Street sits their urban farm, with plans to build another on a new building’s roof in the future. While the farm I visited was under redevelopment when I was shown around, the farmer present and her assistant were still busy growing and harvesting plants. Set up in 2013, the farm was built on a green roof built in 2004 that had been left in a state of disrepair. Much like a traditional community supported agriculture (CSA) project, the farm divides its produce to its members, as well as in a local market. Produce that isn’t sold is sent to local food charities. The farm, according to those who run it, produces between 8,000 and 10,000 lbs of produce each year. The Ryerson University farm is a vibrant example of what the city of Toronto is hoping to see more of around the city with their Green Roof bylaw.
Black Creek Community Farm is a somewhat different type of enterprise compared the that of Ryerson University’s endeavour. The roughly 8-acre farm is situated north of the city centre on Jane Street. Set up in 2012 by a conglomerate of food sovereignty and food security agencies and the Region Conservation Authority, the aim of the farm was and is to produce accessible and affordable food. The main farm operates a similar membership share system to that of a CSA but over the years many smaller offshoot farms for specific communities in the area have been set up on the land. The farm has gone through its own share of trials since its inception with funding issues being their main opponent, a common issue with many community supported agriculture projects not just in Canada but also in Ireland. But walking around the farm and speaking with some of those who use it regularly, it is clear that for the people of the surrounding community Black Creek is an invaluable addition to the neighbourhood.
The Flaherty Research Scholarship gave me the chance to meet many fascinating people. I made numerous contacts in both the academic and the agricultural spheres, many of whom are members of both groups. As mentioned in the previous section, I visited a number of different locations throughout my visit. It is through the visits to the University of Toronto I met Dr. Hilary Cunningham, Dr. Stephen Scharper, Emily Camille-Gilbert, among others. It is through my fieldwork visits to different farmers’ markets and community farms that I met people like Rosco, Esey, and Alison. These contacts proved invaluable in giving me the widest exposure to all the city of Toronto has to offer and I believe some of these connections made will stand the test of time and have the potential to lead to further visits back to Toronto and collaboration on future projects at both the individual and institutional levels.
From Left to Right: Dr Scharper, Rosco and Stuart Lang
Opportunities for Future Collaboration:
Future collaboration was something I discussed at length with members of the anthropology department at the University of Toronto, especially with Dr. Scharper and Dr. Cunningham. I believe there is plenty of scope for further, very necessary, research in the area of urban agriculture and imagined futures, and that research is collaborative. I have every intention of building on the connections made during this trip in either some formal or informal capacity between my home university, Maynooth University and University of Toronto. I hope to invite some of those I have met as guest speakers to Maynooth Universty’s anthropology department in the not too distant future.
To conclude, my trip to Toronto gave me invaluable personal and academic experience. The city’s urban agriculture and those involved with it have offered an interesting comparison to urban agriculture back in Dublin. After seeing only a small sample of the projects being ran in Toronto, it is clear to me that similar projects back in Dublin, and Ireland in general, could learn something from our Canadian counterparts. If my visit has taught me anything it is that there is much more to explore and understand how the relationship between people, land, and food is constructed and navigated in an urbanised world. I look forward to continuing my research back in Ireland, now with the knowledge gained from Toronto and revisiting the city in the future.