Aspiring urban gardener? Head to Toronto

November 8, 2010

Evergreen Toronto (photo by Steve Dolinsky)

Some Chicago chefs and restaurateurs have been making steady progress in the effort to run more sustainable businesses.  The term “urban gardening” has been creeping into the lexicon, as chefs like Rick Bayless go so far as to grow their own produce or herbs, either in their backyards, or on the roofs of their businesses.  Edgewater’s Uncommon Ground has been nurturing a rooftop garden, complete with solar panels for extra eco-efficiency within its building.  A closer look at Kevin Hickey’s menu at the Four Seasons reveals the fact he uses the occasional “rooftop” herb. 

Then there are the beekeepers.  The Marriot on Michigan Avenue is getting into the honey business, monitoring its own apiary; they’ve also got a Rooftop Honey Wheat beer being made for them by local brewery Half Acre.  Certainly, chefs there have seen that it is, indeed, possible to produce and sell delicious bee nectar, thanks to the fact the Chicago Honey Co-Op has shown success with urban honey production from an abandoned, weed-choked lot on the city’s West Side the last few years.

In Toronto recently, I was shown some of the urban gardening operations that seem to be working, but the ones that really caught my attention were more a result of public-private cooperation, than just a single chef’s vision for providing a less expensive way to keep mint and basil easily accessible.

Evergreen Toronto (photo by Steve Dolinsky)

Evergreen is a multi-faceted urban gardening, food service and education facility, with an emphasis on the arts.  It’s housed in a former brick manufacturing facility, located about 15 minutes from the center of the city.   They’re in the midst of final construction, so we got to see the space fairly raw.  Yet their ambition is impressive.  The site houses one of the largest weekly farmer’s markets in Toronto, and the classrooms, greening projects and other urban gardening endeavors make it a must-stop for anyone with an interest in reclaiming industrial space and turning it into a gem that is accessible to the masses.

The Stop is another community center of sorts, except they focus more on food than greening.  However, they do maintain an impressive greenhouse, which is used for after-school classes and other volunteer efforts.  But the fact you can use their wood-burning oven on-site, or even attend a dinner that contains local products sourced from within 50 miles, makes it a unique destination; not exactly a place tourists would come, but still, the local food community seems to have really embraced it, and the fact they are growing, composting and cooking everything on-site is impressive.

Fairmont Royal York (photo by Steve Dolinsky)

I also got to see the roof of the Fairmont Royal York downtown.  Like the Marriot in Chicago, they’re raising bees and producing their own honey (excellent on some scones with clotted cream, by the way).  But they’ve also built quite a few raised beds on roof, and while we were there, they were harvesting away, before the first frost.  I shot some video, which you can see here:

 

Drake BBQ (photo by Steve Dolinsky)

Incidentally, while I was in town, I went to Drake BBQ, connected to the super-cool, hip, Drake Hotel (kind of the antithesis of what we Chicagoans think of when we hear "Drake Hotel").  Think Melrose Avenue meets Lousiville's 21c Museum/Hotel.  The food was spectacular, and they only focus on two things: smoked pork shoulder and smoked brisket. Honestly, never thought I'd say this, but BBQ in Toronto really rocks.