Bowery Project – Creating #VacantSpacesIntoGrowingPlaces
Where most people would naturally avert their eyes if passing a dilapidated, abandoned, eye-sore of a parking lot, Deena DelZotto & Rachel Kimel, Co-Founders of Bowery Project, saw potential for an initiative that would change the face of vacant spaces around the Greater Toronto Area and turn them into sustainable growing places.
Upon meeting Deena and Rachel, it is easy to see how they became fast friends and partners in this not for profit charity. They met at The Stop’s Green Barn and their love of growing food, coupled with their desire to give back to the community, had them wondering if and how food could be grown in these unused lots they were passing by in the city every day.
In 2014, their shared passion and determination led them on a journey to creating Bowery Project.
The Answer is in Milk Crates
After seeking permission from the owners to use their spaces, the ladies quickly set to work designing and creating their first mobile milk crate urban farms and temporary installations.
These mobile farms are constructed from milk crates which are used as planters. They are stacked 2 crates high, and are strategically laid out in terms of designs built for aesthetics and for optimal harvest of the produce that they grow.
The top crates are lined with hand sewn landscape lining, filled with soil and environmentally conscious fertilizer, and then planted with organic seeds, bulbs and plants. The bottom crates act as drainage for the planted crates above.
These milk crate farms grow, in abundance, a large variety of fruits and vegetables (except for root vegetables requiring ground planting), herbs and spices, and even include pollinator flowers such as calendula and marigolds.
The milk crate design caters to the availability of space in any particular location and this allows for a completely mobile farm which facilitates quick construction and deconstruction for temporary exhibits or relocation if space becomes unavailable.
Over the past few years, the Bowery Project has received tremendous support from their eager volunteers, their partners and donors. They are also well-deserved recipients of an Ontario Trillium Grant, for their Vanauley Street YMCA project. These grants are awarded to approximately 1000 projects annually to help build healthy and vibrant Ontario communities.
Since 2014, Deena and Rachel have successfully grown, maintained, and harvested hundreds of pounds of fresh produce to support local community shelters and centres. They have also engaged hundreds of Toronto community members to participate in their projects through volunteerism and educational programming.
Each Bowery Project milk crate urban farm tells its own unique story depending on the size of the farm, the location, duration of the farm installation, how the space was obtained, and the partnerships and community services specific to that project. A full and detailed list of their past and current projects including their temporary installations at various events and festivals in the city, can be found on their website.
When out and about in the city, you may have already noticed their multi-coloured crates at the Evergreen Brickworks. These crates are primarily used for children’s educational purposes. Or, perhaps you have walked by their impressive 1500 milk crate farm beside the Vanauley Street YMCA. This farm supports the youth centre by providing fresh produce to the YMCA Kitchen and engages the youth participants at the centre. Most recently, you may have noted another 1500 milk crate farm located at Oben Flats in the Sherbourne & Gerrard area. This space, which had been previously vacant for over 20 years, now hosts a Bowery Project urban farm which will support the Native Women’s Resource Centre of Toronto (NWRCT).
Bowery Project also supports Canada’s Farm to Table movement, which means that the excess produce harvested at these farms, is sold directly to local restaurants in these communities, and the funds obtained from the sales are put back into the projects.
Get Involved, Get Dirty, and Meet Wonderful People!
Volunteering is a great way to become involved with Bowery Project. As a regular volunteer myself over the past couple of years, there are a few things that I can guarantee.
You will most certainly:
- Meet a vast array of wonderful people because the engagement and interest in this project extends to all demographics. On any given volunteer shift, you will be working alongside community residents, students, children, families, farmers, chefs, youth, corporate volunteers, philanthropists, seniors, gardeners, farmers, neighbours, and the list goes on.
- Get your hands (clothes, shoes, face, and hair) dirty. No challenge is too big or too small – whether constructing a build, maintaining the farm, or harvesting the produce; Deena and Rachel entrust and challenge their volunteers to take on any task and are with you each step of the way.
- Learn something new about urban farming every time you volunteer. Deena and Rachel use every opportunity to share their knowledge and educate you in every way possible.
- Gain a new perspective and appreciation for insects and grubs, bees and butterflies as it is hard not to join in the contagious excitement when these little creatures put enormous smiles on the ladies’ faces.
- Feel a sense of pride that you are part of a project that has turned a vacant space in our city, into a beautiful urban farm with a purpose to service the hungry and often under resourced members of our Toronto community.
- Finally, after each volunteer shift, there is a physical and visible difference in the farm, and you will bear witness to the fruits (and vegetables) of your labour every time.
In 2017, Bowery Project was included in the list of 117 Organizations to watch by Foodtank– which is serious Food for Thought about the significant impact that Bowery Project has already made in the City of Toronto in the past few years.
Be sure to check out Bowery Project’s website for current updates, and follow them on Instagram and Facebook for cool and creative posts, , and stay tuned to #vacantspacesintogrowingplaces for their most current events and projects.
Amanda Lee has a degree in Sociology from Brock University, and has worked in the Corporate Social Responsibility field for a developer in Toronto, and for a local charity for the past several years. Amanda has a strong passion for integrated responsible business practices, and for those who take action in the global and local communities in which they are operate.