Urban Agriculture: Cargill’s Commitment to Sustainability and Nutrition Has City Neighborhoods Turning Green

by Stephen Schreiber
Feb 24, 2017 9:50 AM ET

There was a time when the words “urban” and “agriculture” weren’t likely to be used together. Today, however, cultivating, processing and distributing food in the city is becoming an ever more popular way to help grow a greener, more nutritious future.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the face of agriculture is changing, and urban agriculture is one of the latest movements to challenge the traditional view of farming.

“From rooftop gardens to aquaponics centers in old warehouses to growing crops on abandoned properties, urban agriculture provides many benefits to a community, including closer neighborhood ties, reduced crime, education and job training opportunities, and healthy food access for low-income residents,” says USDA on its website.

Throughout the world, urban gardens are growing – both outward and upward – in cities and towns large and small. In Canada, for example, Cargill supports several urban agriculture initiatives that have been thriving in recent years. Two examples are Ruelle de l’avenir (alley of the future) and the Garden Patch, which are providing educational experiences and needed local produce for their communities.

Each summer in Montreal, Quebec, about 30 Ruelle de l’avenir students tend a rooftop garden and take their products to the local farmers’ market. In managing this cooperative enterprise, they get the experience of growing produce, preparing it for market, and learning about business operations.

In addition to providing healthy food for local consumption, these students get hands-on experience and the opportunity to explore potential career paths in science, agriculture, food safety, cooking and management. Professionals from various industries also visit to teach the students about different elements of business, such as marketing and entrepreneurship.

Distinctive in Eastern Canada, this program is a fun, engaging way for kids from various backgrounds to collaborate, learn and effectively make a difference together in their community. See Ruelle de l’avenir in action in this video.

Connecting communities to sustainable nutrition
Three thousand kilometers to the west, vacant city lots have been transformed into a vibrant urban agricultural project. The Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre’s Garden Patch has created a community hub that produces more than 20,000 pounds of produce each year, filling emergency food hampers with much-needed product.

In addition, the Garden Patch space is a living outdoor classroom. In 2015, more than 4,000 people visited and 1,600 volunteers assisted in operations, including Cargill employees who formed an “Adopt-A-Plot” team. Cargill also has contributed more than $175,000 to the Garden Patch since 2013.

“When we first decided to support the Garden Patch, we did so with the idea that we’d be helping grow fresh produce for distribution to the community through the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre,” said Blaine Duncan, manager of Cargill’s malt plant in Biggar, Saskatchewan. “I don’t think we realized how much more it would turn out to be.”

The partnership has clearly blossomed. Cargill recently was honored with the Strategic Alliance Award, presented by the Saskatoon Community Foundation at the Saskatoon Achievement in Business Excellence Awards, for its support of the Garden Patch.

According to Duncan, the community has embraced the project and it has become a place for people to share ideas and learn from each other. “Transfer of knowledge and skills from competent gardeners to those who are learning how to grow food for the first time is a regular occurrence,” he said.

Duncan added that the Garden Patch includes composting and pollination demonstrations – and will add raised beds this year so people with limited mobility can participate.

“The smiles you see on the faces of people sharing and learning are truly satisfying,” said Duncan. “It’s one of the most rewarding projects that I’ve been a part of.”

It goes to show, green thumbs, big hearts and helping hands are a winning combination – from rooftops to empty lots.