Intensifying urban food production with agroecology
Grand River Food Forestry
The Waterloo Region, Canada
Underutilised spaces in cities can be transformed into community and neighbourhood gardens to provide local, healthy, fresh food. Canada’s Grand River Food Forestry initiative in the city of Kitchener came about when local volunteers went a step further and suggested a food forest, growing food for free on public land in a sustainable, low-maintenance way.
Once a food forest is established, it requires very little maintenance – a benefit for those who have never gardened or have little time. A couple of hours a week shared between 10 volunteers makes light work of stewarding a food forest and reduces the administrative burden on the city authorities. As a result, the city of Kitchener decided to support the project and in 2015 the first food forest in Kitchener was planted by a team of volunteers, launching what is now known as the Grand River Food Forestry (GRFF) initiative.
City and neighbourhood associations, schools, churches, seniors’ homes, etc., have been instrumental in bringing the vision of food forestry to fruition by providing everything from gardening tools to promoting events using social media.
GRFF has led the way in connecting the community through food, creating over 7,500 square feet (approximately 2,300 square meters) of regenerative food forests that provide space for reflection, relaxation, educational tours, medicinal herbs, wildlife habitats, pollinator hedges and permaculture training. Over 500 local residents have built and now maintain these sites. From the initial planning stages, connections have been created between neighbours of different ages, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, through the common goal of growing and accessing healthy food.
These 16 urban food forest spaces are within walking distance of over 8,000 local residents, providing access to healthy food without pesticides and ecologically sound land practice education. Once mature, these food forests will help the economy through the propagation of berry bushes as well as annual and perennial food harvesting for resale. This empowers and connects communities for a sustainable future for generations to come.
"The way that this initiative has been organised, with a well-planned and thoughtful strategy for outreach, focus on youth, municipal and govt bodies, is very interesting. Also the simplicity of the initiative is inspiring. It is replicable in other cities."
– Meena Menon