Field Trip Portfolio
A grassroots approach to sustainable community living:
Common Roots Urban Farm
Sara Solaimani Baghainia
ENVI5504: Management of Resources and the Environment
September 28th 2017
School for Resources and Environmental Studies
Part 1: Formal Report
Urban Agriculture and Sustainability: Common Roots Urban Farm
Population growth and traditional agriculture are very tightly interrelated to each other, and have grown hand-in-hand throughout history. As cities grow, the rising costs of lands push more and more farms into the periphery of urban areas (Lawson, 2016). The practice of agriculture has had to adapt to urban expansion through time, with farms often having to become increasingly productive through the help of new technologies and methods. Globalized food system means that in Western Countries resources of city centers are focused more on storage and transportation than on production. With this emphasis, spaces used for urban farming can be perceived as regressive and temporary. It must be noted, however, that urban agriculture is a distinct practice from rural agriculture, and not just a variation. Urban agriculture is now entering a new phase to address food access and security and contribute to community cohesion in cities across the world (ex: Shanghai to Detroit). Empty plots are being identified to service "food desert" neighborhoods that are ready for transformation. (Lawson, 2016)
Common Roots Urban Farm of Halifax, Nova Scotia, offers many opportunities to residents from all walks of life. Situated in the heart of the city on publicly owned lands, this six year old farm contains community, common and market plots where fresh produce is grown and sold to locals.
Common Roots is located on land that was once the home of the old Queen Elizabeth High School. Today the building is gone and the adjacent QEII Health Sciences Centre has the land e-marked for a future extension at an un-determined date. In order to respect the Halifax Common's overall goal to “remain a vital, living part of the city and continue to serve the needs of the citizens in the spirit of the original grant” and to “provide a diversity of high quality public uses and spaces” (Halifax, 1994), Common Roots Urban Farm makes use of a land that could otherwise be left as an open gravel demolition site or converted into a parking lot (Melrose, 2017).
Soil quality is incredibly important to the success of a farm. In urban agriculture, however, the situation quickly becomes complex when trying to convert a demolition site into fertile grounds for farming. Urban soils are highly variable and can be subjected to poor drainage for a number of reasons, including soil compaction and the burial of solid materials remaining after demolition in disturbed areas (Beniston et al., 2013). Although Common Roots Urban Farm faced such challenges during the first few years of establishment, with the help of soil scientist they have managed to successfully develop a high-quality soil which is used to grow produce (Melrose, 2017).
City farming used to be more common during the world wars so that agricultural fields could be used to support war efforts. Later activist used Victory Garden inspired gardens to empower communities by relieving poverty, offering support to immediate needs and opportunities for skilled training (Goode, 2015; Lawson, 2016). Common Roots Urban Farm plays an important role in the social dynamics of the community. They offer opportunity and encourage volunteers to connect and learn about farming. Families with young children, elderly members, youth groups, hospital patients, nurses and staff, and anyone with a desire to grow food or simply walk through the farm are united in one common space, where they can build friendships and offer mutual support. As seen in other similar urban farms, active engagement in such initiatives can have long-term effects on youth's attitudes and behaviors towards one-self and community (Sonti et al., 2016).
Situated in the Halifax Commons, Common Roots Urban Farm focuses on accessibility ranging from physical, social, and financial. To start, the central location of the farm is crucial to accessibility of fresh, local produce and/or garden plots that would otherwise be difficult for Halifax peninsula pedestrians to access. In a world where modern conventional agri-food systems are increasingly weakening the links between producers and consumers (Wiskerke, 2009), urbanites are given the opportunity to reconnect to their food. In addition, the proximity of the farm to the hospital allows for patients, staff and family members to walk through and enjoy the grounds during short breaks or before/after doctor appointments, benefiting their physical and mental health (Melrose, 2017). Recently, wheelchair-accessible garden bed made national news as the farm strives to be more accessible to all (Ward, 2016). Unsold produce from the market gardens is not wasted either- it is donated regularly to the local food bank.
In addition to all this, Common Roots Urban Farm runs a program called Deep Roots that offers opportunities for new Canadians to connect to the community, find employment, practice English and share knowledge. Through this program, participants are able to practice their English and contribute to their community by teaching agriculture and horticulture techniques, and sharing new cultural and medicinal uses for plants that would otherwise be ignored. Programs like this one have the ability to involve refugees in a new culture while connecting them to what is familiar (Wiercinski, 2010).
True to the management of any resource, Common Roots Urban Farm faces a number of challenges. It must be noted that the celebrated accessibility of Common Roots is part of a trade-off with significant levels of theft of product. The consequences of these petty thefts are made manifest in the financial situation of the farm, which is not sustainable in the long-term (Melrose, 2017). According to the CRUF 2016 Annual Report financial summary forecast, total revenue covered total expenses down to the cent. What is concerning is that only 16.23% of the revenue was earned from farm production, whereas the rest of the funding depended on donations, grants, sponsorships and partner contributions, which can vary year to year (CRUF, 2016). In order to function in the long-term, Common Roots will need to develop and implement a strategic financial plan to be considered sustainable.
The lack of a publically available long-term management plan for the farm is another issue, likely due to the uncertainty around the permanency of the location. Common Roots Urban Farm has had many positive contributions on the welfare of the community, and public support for the initiative is significant (Melrose, 2017). According to Jayme Melrose, project coordinator at Common Roots Urban Farm, it is unlikely that the farm will completely close when the land is ready to be used for the adjacent hospital extension. She hypothesizes a reduction in size of the farm and innovative strategies to continue to plant produce in city backyards (Melrose, 2017).
Urban agriculture is not a new concept, but management issues surrounding it has evolved. In order to be regarded as sustainable, policy surrounding urban agriculture should include three main dimensions- social and cultural, where capacity building, participatory planning and accessibility would be emphasized; economic and financial, where marketing and safeguarding the sector are of importance; and infrastructural and ecological, where management and planning of the physical plots, recycling of organic waste and water management would be considered (Dieleman, 2017).
Overall, in the few years that Common Roots Urban Farm has been operating, they have been thriving in the management of social and ecological dimensions of urban agriculture. Testimony after testimony prove that the community is responding well to the accessibility of fresh food that the farm provides, and the opportunities to connect to others and the earth. Financially, the farm must develop stronger management plans in order to be truly sustainable.
Beniston, J., Lal, Rattan, Basta, Nicholas, Mercer, Kristin, & Shipitalo, Martin. (2013). Assessing and Managing Soil Quality for Urban Agriculture, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.
Common Roots Urban Farm (CRUF). (2016). 2016 Annual Report. Retrieved from http://commonrootsurbanfarm.ca/our-roots/
Dieleman, H. (2017). Urban agriculture in Mexico City; balancing between ecological, economic, social and symbolic value. Journal of Cleaner Production, 163, S156- S163.
Goode, L. (2015). Urban Farming (TM) (http://wwwurbanfarming.org). Journal of Agricultural & Food Information, 16(3), 189.
Halifax. (1994). Halifax Common plan. Halifax: The City.
Lawson, L. (2016). Sowing the city. Nature, 540(7634), 522-524.
Melrose, Jayme. (2017). Personal communication. Common Roots Urban Farm. Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Sonti, N., Campbell, L., Johnson, M., & Daftary-Steel, S. (2016). Long-Term Outcomes of an Urban Farming Internship Program. Journal of Experiential Education, 39(3), 269-287.
Ward, R. (2016, September 02). Accessible garden grows at Halifax's Common Roots Urban Farm. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova- scotia/common-roots-urban-farm-halifax-hospital-accessibility-wheelchair- 1.3747119
Wiercinski, S. (2010). Urban farming program creates community for refugees. National Catholic Reporter, 47(4), 2A.
Wiskerke, J. (2009). On Places Lost and Places Regained: Reflections on the Alternative Food Geography and Sustainable Regional Development. International Planning Studies, 14(4), 369-387.
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