Let me start with some local food hot news:

Did you know? Up until now, Ontario chicken farmers had only two options: either buy an average $1.75 million quota (i.e. some sort of license) for the right to produce a minimum of 90,000 birds a year… or buy no quota and produce a maximum of 300 birds a year that they could only sell at their farm gate. No wonder Ontario alternatives to conventionally raised chicken are not available to our hospitals. It’s hardly available to anyone!

Here is the good news: Chicken Farmers of Ontario (CFO) just announced a portfolio of new “flocking options” (600 to 3,000 birds) that will support expanded business opportunities for Ontario small and medium chicken farmers. Next stumbling block…. getting small abattoirs to process the chicken, since Ontario ones have all been closed down.

Yes – as you now know – it takes a lot to serve Ontario food to our patients, unless…

One of the perks of being a Local Food Project Coordinator is that I get to witness some amazing projects that UHN self-starters put together for the benefit of our patients. Look at the rooftop garden at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute’s 5 South Geriatric Psychiatry Unit for example. The garden is in its second year and is thriving. You might have heard of the start of the initiative by inpatient staff on UHN News. Last week, Deb (in the picture above) walked me through the garden so I can witness some of the goodness growing and… wow! I had no idea you could grow so much food in a small container garden. We’ve got eggplant, zucchini, tomato (captured above), squash, carrot, mint, chard,… even melon and sunflower. And that’s just a fraction of the bounty growing there. Deb wished the whole garden maven team (including Danielle, Willie and Amy) were present for a group picture, but you know how busy things are around here…

In the sphere of urban farmers, the 5 south team would be called visionaries. All around the world hospitals are reclaiming urban space to grow food. Urban farming is becoming kind of a big deal. In his book Food for City Building, Wayne Roberts – an internationally recognized analyst, advocate and practitioner in the field of city food policy – lists the benefits of urban farming: job creation, social cohesion, neighborhood revitalization. Healthcare professionals understand how the “feedback loop” (i.e., the time it takes to identify any positive outcome) of fresh food is very slow when it comes to health. Wayne Roberts defends that the feedback loop benefits cities quite directly: “More local sustainable food means more green spaces, more places to put compost and reduce cost of waste handling, more places to soak up rain and save on sewage main expansion, and so on”.

What he forgot to mention is that urban farming in our day and age makes you kind of hip…see for yourself, how hipsters are reclaiming the fine art of gardening:


I continued my journey after work to check on what’s going on at the UHN Real Food Garden, our plot at Scadding Court Community Centre, in from of Toronto Western Hospital. Here are some pics:

This garden is a bit more established. It has been around for a while and the group of staff and patient volunteers has been playing with different seeds every year. In the pictures you can see chard (top left), cherry tomatoes and their flower companion Nasturtium (top right), Buttercup squash (I had to look that one up) and sage (bottom right). We also have peas, cucumbers, kale, zucchini and other herbs.

To join the Real Food Garden’s team of volunteers, sign up here.

If this story makes you want to hug a farmer, you should check out the farmers’ market at the University entrance of Sick Kids, every Tuesday 8am-2pm. Better yet, join their newsletter and never miss a market day.

Happy harvest!