It’s no secret that green spaces are very important features of a healthy city, but for city dwellers, that green space is often hard to come by. Especially at ground level. But it’s a little-known fact that there’s a quarter-acre of farmland just five minutes from the busy Yonge-Dundas Square. Rooftop gardens have become a growing trend as a sustainable solution as space becomes limited in urban settings like Toronto. Here at The Plant, we love to shed light on this amazing initiative, that is the Ryerson Urban Farm (RUF). So let’s “look up” at this precious parcel of land, a rarity in the City.

Ryerson has been ahead of curve with roof gardens – RUF originally opened as a green-space rooftop garden over ten years ago in 2004. The project was intended to help reduce energy costs and help cool the building. Resting atop the George Vari Engineering Centre at Church and Gould Street, the garden was originally planted with daylilies and over 80 varieties of local weeds.

In an interview with Macleans Magazine, Ryerson Urban Farm Manager Arlene Thrones says that the weeds created a “rich, organic life” in the soil, prime for food production. So in 2013, student-initiated gardening group converted a small section into an edible garden as a pilot project.

Using the weeds already planted, RUF let them grow to knee height in the spring, cut them to the ground and covered the garden with a tarp for three weeks. This allowed the cut weeds to decompose and enrich the soil. And it worked. In its first year, RUF produced over 500 pounds of produce including herbs, strawberries, eggplants, and lettuce.

Today, the 10,000-sq foot garden grows 30 different crops that “operate on a five-year crop rotation.” The expanded garden now produces almost 8,000 pounds of organic food per year, which is then used to feed Ryerson students through farmer markets, campus kitchens, and a weekly food basket service.

The benefits of a garden rooftop go beyond the produce it grows. Garden rooftops typically last longer than standard tiled rooftops, they reduce stormwater run-off, and as we’ve preached before, the biodiversity helps improve overall air quality. Rooftop gardens also offer benefits year-round, protecting the building from direct solar heat in the summer, and helps minimise heat loss in the winter.

Looking towards the future, RUF aims to “draw upon principles of ecological garden design to create gardens that are beautiful, productive and resilient.” At the present day, RUF has created a program that feeds hundreds of students in an exceptionally sustainable manner. All of which takes place in less than a kilometre. It’s astounding.

At The Plant, we’re excited to follow their lead in creating urban gardens that are abundant, nourishing, and lasting.