Urban farming day 1

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I am currently helping out at Fresh City Farms in Downsview Park. I attended the orientation last week and had a chance to speak to Phil, one of the owners. He’s chill, with my sense of humour, which made it easy to connect with him quickly. He’s knowledgeable and I liked his honesty (it’s ok to want to make money while doing good). So I decided, what the heck, I’m going to try my hand at urban farming.

Please don’t confuse my internship with being a member farmer. You can sign up to become a member farmer, which means that they (Phil, Ran and Connor) will teach you what you need to know, and provide you with the seeds, land and tools and in exchange, you are farming on your allotted plot of land. They give you numbers for what you should be harvesting and when, and the deal is, they will buy the food from you. Right, I should mention that Fresh City Farms aims to connect food makers and food eaters. Food grown is sold to people like you and me, through weekly boxes which are delivered to your door.

I am interested in urban farming, but I think becoming a member-farmer is a huge leap, and I think you had to sign up earlier and go through all the training over the winter. I am basically helping out on the farm, which includes helping out member farmers. Yesterday was my first day. Being the city girl that I am, I prepared by buying a pair of rubber booties and a pair of jeans plus a hoodie from Old Navy (affordable clothes that I don’t care if they get dirty). I arrived at 8:45 am and my first task was to help unload 2 trucks of food to the Fresh City Farms trailer – nothing like lifting heavy boxes first thing in the morning. It was really cold in the morning, even with the sun. Thankfully the greenhouse is warm – it never gets below 20 degrees in there, and is it ever humid! I ran into the greenhouse several times that morning to warm up. Hilary (another intern) and I spent the morning in the field, weeding. Connor showed us how to use these garden knives to dig up ‘weeds’ from the beds. I learned that weeds can be anything – it simply refers to an unwanted plant. Hilary and I worked 2 rows each. It was nice to have someone to talk to out there. We started out squatting and weeding, but it’s hard on the back, so we ended up sitting on our bums, each weeding either side of the beds and then shuffling backwards until we reached the end of the row. After she left, I started on another row on my own until Connor asked me if I wanted to help out with seeding in the greenhouse. By this time, it was early afternoon and the wind had subsided so it was actually nice outdoors, but I was ready to try another task to give my back a break. In the greenhouse, Phil showed me how to make 3/4″ soil blocks, using the soil block mold. Phil made it look easy, but it takes a lot of muscle to compact the soil into the mold. My hands felt raw by the end of the task – next time, I’m wearing gloves for some extra padding. After making the tray of soil blocks, it was time for precision seeding – 1 seed per block. I seeded the Red Russian Kale. Connor then showed me his method of sprinkling the vermiculite on top instead of using top soil. There is information out there that raises concern over vermiculite and asbestos, but the Manitoba public health statement feels that horticultural vermiculite is considered safe and does not post an elevated risk of cancer to the user. After reading about this, it made me wonder if this product is safe for organic farming. Apparently it is as long as it does not contain dust, however, it is an inorganic material. I will have to ask Connor more about this, but the reason they use it instead of top soil is that it provides more even germination, and some sources state that it helps seed to germinate successfully as it promotes drainage at the base of the plants’ stems.

I loved my day on the farm, but my body clearly was not used to bending so much, carrying heaving boxes, and being exposed to the cold for so long, followed by a dose of high humidity. I managed to fall asleep at 9:45 pm and slept right through to 9:00 this morning. My hands are still a little tender, and my butt feels like it’s done one too many squats, but I’m ready to do it again. 11 more weeks to go!

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