Young Urban Farmers CSA
Young Urban Farmers CSA is an independent, non-profit organization with the goal of turning Toronto’s backyards into a sustainable source of fresh, organic food for its urban inhabitants. www.yufcsa.com
While our primary operation of running neighbourhood-based community shared agriculture programs are self-sustaining, we have worked with other community organizations on a variety of other projects. These include collaborations with Volunteer Toronto, Madison Community Services, The Stop Community Food Centre and Hillesum Farms, Meal Exchange, and the Canadian Association of Girls in Science
Young Urban Farmers CSA is a non-profit organization with the goal of turning Toronto’s backyards into a sustainable source of fresh, organic food for its urban inhabitants. Fuelled by a passion for healthy living, local organic produce, and environmental responsibility, we hope to spark a new revolution in sustainable urban living by providing the freshest, tastiest, urban-grown produce to GTA residents.
Started in 2009, YUF CSA operates a community shared agriculture program in 3 neighbourhoods across the City of Toronto: Lawrence Park North, Wychwood, and Riverdale. Homeowners donate their yard (front and/or back) for us to convert into an organic vegetable garden. Our team of enthusiastic volunteers then takes care of managing the garden doing everything from the planning and prep to the digging and planting, through to the watering and harvesting of the delicious produce. The veggies are then shared with local community members. Urban vegetable gardens support our cities and our climate by reducing the distance food has to travel from food to plate, reduces greenhouse gas emissions. increase plant biodiversity, reduces the urban heat island effect, engages the community in a social project, and allows people to enjoy fresh, delicious produce right from a local neighbourhood backyard.
Growing food in an urban environment reduces greenhouse gas emissions by minimizing the distance food has to travel from field to plate. In 2010, our participants traveled an average of 2.65km for their weekly food pickup. To put this in perspective, a 2005 study by Foodshare reported locally sourced food traveled an average of 101km versus 5,346km for imported foods to Toronto, and emitted 100 times less greenhouse gas emissions. By growing hyper-locally, we virtually eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions associated with vehicles shipping food from farm to grocery store, the need for temporary storage, and the energy used to refrigerate and store the produce before it gets to the average Torontonian's plate.
In addition, we do not use any packaging, saving an average of 120 pieces of packaging each week, therefore reducing the energy use from manufacturing and disposal of temporary packaging - the majority of which is petroleum based, and not easily recyclable or compostable. Finally, our gardens in each neighbourhood are often next door to each other and easily accessible by public transit. This enables our volunteers to bicycle, take public transit, or even walk to the gardens, eliminating the need for a motorized vehicle. Together, our collective efforts reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we generate, reduce smog-causing emissions from motor vehicles and inspire others to take on similar initiatives.
One of the major issues surrounding large cities with regards to smog and climate change is the urban heat island effect, where the average temperature within an urban area is significantly higher than in nearby rural areas. This is due to the high concentration of pavement and concrete within cities that absorb solar radiation, and release it as heat, contributing to smog and increased energy consumption. As the temperatures are higher in the city, cities become more reliant on energy-intensive artificial cooling, which in turn emit greenhouse gases, raise temperatures and contribute to climate change. Gardens, on the other hand, absorb solar radiation and carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, and convert it into plant matter and in our case, nutritious food. Similarly, plants and soil absorb rainfall that would otherwise run off and strain the sewer system, while utilizing pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorus to reduce smog in the city.
Finally, gardens increase plant biodiversity and preserve heirloom and open-pollinated varieties of vegetables that could be threatened by climate change if not continually grown and diversified. We install rain barrels in our gardens (which can save an average of 31,000L of rain in Toronto, or 450L per average rainfall, or 6.2kg of CO2 per year), create compost piles in each of our yards, practice low-till gardening, and actively work to improve the condition and fertility of the soil which improves the vitality of the Earth and local environment. YUF CSA is centered around building a community of people who are passionate about these issues in order, and create spaces to share ideas, collaborate on new initiatives, and promote urban agriculture.
As a result of these initiatives, we anticipate Toronto to become a greener, cleaner, and more smog-free city, with reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and more people educated about these topics.
Elaine Howarth is a graduate from Trent University in the environmental and political studies program. She is the head of operations: planning, coordinating, and overseeing all of our backyard gardens. She is a skilled and experienced gardener having worked in community gardens such as Trent University's green roof, Trent's half acre plot, and the Green Oasis Community Garden. She has a passion for food security and urban agriculture, and has contributed to local organizations such as Local Food Plus and the Riverdale Food Working Group.
Christopher Wong is a graduate of the Queen’s University commerce program and brings a strong entrepreneurial and sales background to the team. He is the sales manager for YUF CSA, a co-founder of Young Urban Famers Limited, a member of the Toronto Food Policy Council, and has spent time at a major consumer packaged goods organization in their foodservice sales and marketing team. He is highly involved in the local food scene and has been a guest speaker for local food organizations such as FoodShare and Food Forward.
Stella Woo is a graduate from the University of Toronto, majoring in Human Biology and Economics. She is the marketing and technology manager, drawing upon her skills in graphic design, marketing communications, website development, and consumer behaviour.
Andrea Chan is a passionate supporter of the local food movement. She is an enthusiastic internship coordinator and splits her down time between reading, playing taiko, and baking desserts with Ontario blueberries.
From the enthusiastic response from our participants, volunteers, the broader community, and the media, we believe our project will be self supporting within five years. CSA programs have proven to be a profitable and a financially stable business and non-profit model, with over 250 programs in Ontario alone. As we work towards financial stability and adapting our model to an urban environment, we have developed the following strategies for ensuring the long term stability and success of our program.
i. Create or increase revenue streams. These revenue opportunities arise as a result of our existing CSA operations and require minimal management and oversight. This includes selling surplus seedlings at farmers markets, selling surplus produce at a farmers market, and accepting donations from individuals and organizations.
ii. Increase efficiency of our general operations. By refining our growing techniques, adding organic soil amendments to boost the nutrients and fertility of the soil, we can raise our share prices, minimize overhead costs, and invest in capital equipment to lower operational costs,