From August 15-18, urban agricultural enthusiasts from around the world gathered in Toronto for the very first Urban Agriculture Summit. The international conference, hosted by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities and FoodShare, attracted over 500 farmers, activists, educators, CEOs, design professionals, developers, and other industry leaders to discuss current initiatives and explore the future of urban agriculture.
Seated tightly in a lecture hall at Toronto’s Reyerson University, we listened to the conference’s opening remarks while fidgeting in anticipation of the lectures, panel discussions, and brain mingling to come. Topics would range from social issues (food security and community building), to the sciences (urban ecology and technology), to implementation (planning, design, financing, and policy). An astounding assortment of industry leaders were in attendance – all the hot shots were there. Will Allen, Founder and CEO of the Milwaukee-based agricultural organization Growing Power, kick-started the conference with an inspiring keynote address. Brightfarms CEO Paul Lightfoot maintained the conference’s momentum with an eye-opening talk about his greenhouse hydroponic company’s innovative business model. High-profile rooftop farmers, like Ben Flanner from Brooklyn Grange, led workshops and sat on informative panels. Architects and landscape architects offered insight on the practicalities of designing urban agricultural spaces, and community gardeners discussed best practices for maintaining them.
The conference’s emphasis on rooftop agriculture attracted quite a crowd. I presented on rooftop production techniques to a room of 60 or so attendees, and the rooftop buzz hummed throughout the rest of the conference. One of the most fascinating panel discussions I attended paired rooftop row farmer Ben Flanner with Kurt D. Lynn, co-founder of the Montreal-based rooftop hydroponic greenhouse company, Lufa Farms. The two experts discussed differences in their company’s approaches to financing, business development, production, and sales outlets. When viewed side-by-side, the contrasting business models revealed unique opportunities and challenges, specific to each approach. The contrast was fascinating.
After the conference, attendees returned to Cuba, Germany, India, the U.S., and other home countries, to disseminate their freshly cultivated knowledge and excitement. I hope, as do countless others, for a second Urban Agriculture Conference in 2013.