Since 1999, the Energy and Environment department at the University Health Network (UHN) has been working to develop unprecedented progress in environmental sustainability. UHN Energy and Environment began taking on projects in food security in 2014. With a Food Project coordinator funded by the Greenbelt Fund, their goal was to explore UHN’s food ecosystem and identify access points to provide more Ontario-produced food to patients and staff. They initiated a conversation—Talkin’ Local Food with UHN—to crowdsource fresh ideas about how to do food differently.
In 2015, Greenest City inquired about the availability of the rooftop of the Toronto General Hospital’s parking facility for use as an urban farm. Although an ideal location, the site could not be secured for use, alternatives at the Toronto Rehab Institute (TRI) were considered instead, including Bickle Centre—which offers complex continuing care—and Lyndhurst Centre, a brain and spinal cord rehab hospital in Toronto’s Leaside neighbourhood.
While exploring the potential for an urban farm at TRI Lyndhurst, the Food Project Coordinator with UHN Energy & Environment approached the team lead at SOIL, who offered to collaborate on a feasibility study, and assist with a four-hour visioning session, to identify the best model to study in more detail within the Executive team’s directives. While the executive team was engaged separately to accommodate their schedule, six participants joined the session:
- Phil Mount, Principal Investigator of Project SOIL (Shared Opportunity on Institutional Lands)
- Joel Friedman, Finance and Human Resources Manager at Fresh City Farms
- Jennifer Fischer, Sustainability Lead at Ryerson University
- Ryan Turnbull, President of Eco-Ethonomics Inc., (Innoweave Coach)
- Afra Chowdhury, Volunteer with UHN Energy & Environment
- Adeline Cohen, Food Project Coordinator with UHN Energy & Environment.
1.2 Interest and Incentives
Through the research process, it became clear that TRI has multiple incentives to host an urban farm, including the potential to have strong positive impacts on patients, community and on the facility itself.
1.2.1 Patient impact
As health care facilities reimagine their food environments (Dauner et al. 2011) there is growing evidence that “green” exercise (Rogerson et al. 2015, Kuo 2015) and gardening (Hale et. al 2011; Wakefield et al. 2007) have important physical and mental health benefits (Davies et al. 2014). Therapeutic benefit of green spaces have been well documented in the areas of both mental and physical health and include improved mood, improved cognitive abilities and memory, stress hormones and immune functioning regulation, and lowered cardiovascular risks (Stavros & Yukht, 2014). As a result, the urban farm provides the opportunity to assist with rehab through the development of accessible, recreational, physical and mental health therapy programming in gardens both outdoors and inside; provide patients with a tool to make their diet richer in fruits and vegetables, and prevent health risks of sedentary conditions; increase patient satisfaction, staff morale, and staff retention; and add to research on the healing impacts of gardens and green environment in the context of spinal, neuro and cardiac rehab.
1.2.2 Community Impact
The Lyndhurst urban farm project also has the potential to increase community cohesion, by providing an opportunity for staff, patients and the neighbourhood at large to engage through volunteering and the farmer’s market. A changing climate may also decrease the reliability of food production due to floods, droughts, and other extreme weather events, leading to the rise of food prices. Growing food on site can promote resilience and enhance community food insecurity, while supporting the local food economy.
1.2.3 Facility Impact
Fresh food could also provide a possible cost saving: growing fresh organic food on site, that could be used in the cafeteria, patient programs or in-patient menu, would represent a significant savings on the purchase of organic foods of equivalent nutritional value, and freshness.
1.3 Site Description
TRI Lyndhurst site is in Ward 26—Don Valley West—on the edge of Ward 25. The site is between a large residential area and the ravine immediately north of the buildings. There is space on the ground near convenient walking paths—although with some shade cover, and an existing small set of raised beds in the northwest corner of the site.
Approximately 30,000 square feet of land is available on uncontaminated clay soil for food growing at the TRI Lyndhurst Site. The 20,000 square feet roof of the Lyndhurst site has been reinforced to allow a third story to be built, which would support the weight of a rooftop farm or a rooftop greenhouse.
1.3.2 Competing organizations/land uses
Very few food assets are present in ward 25 and 26. There is a real opportunity to place a new food asset in the area. The land proposed for the urban farm has no competing uses and is available.
Figure 2: Overhead view of the TRI Lyndhurst facility (source: googlemaps)
1.4 Description of the Proposed Project
The project was intended to develop a set of alternatives that would allow the hospital to explore and choose from options that included outdoor, in-ground food production, various growing styles (e.g. permaculture, fruits / trees, raised beds), and indoor / greenhouse production in different settings (rooftop, ground level).
1.4.1 Purpose of gardens / production
The target of this venture is the community of Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, Lyndhurst site, located at the north of Toronto, Leaside neighbourhood. It is a community composed of clinical and research staff, volunteers, in- and outpatients experiencing spinal cord injuries, neurological injuries or cardiac injuries, as well as their relatives and visitors. The larger community includes two hospitals and residents adjacent to the site. The gardens could potentially supplement patient meals, cafeteria meals, and also be sold to members of the community.
Garden production is anticipated to include greens (lettuce, chard, bok choy, mustard greens, kale, collards), herbs (basil, cilantro, oregano, fennel, mint, parsley, chives, thyme, lemongrass, nasturtiums, tarragon, chervil), and various fruits and berries suitable for growth in the region (raspberries, strawberries, etc.).
1.4.2 Program model and governance
There are multiple options for model and governance of the program. The visioning session focused on two possible model scenarios:
- Greenhouse and sales managed by TRI/UHN. This would require a member of staff to become a project champion and management would be internal.
- An independent urban farmer is allowed to use 3,000 square feet of space in the greenhouse in exchange for farming labour and a percentage of food production. In this case, all farming materials, purchasing of supplies, marketing and client relations would fall to the farmer.
1.4.3 Primary and secondary uses for food
Food would be used primarily to supplement patient meals and for food preparation in the cafeteria. Food would also be sold to area residents. Lyndhurst area residents are wealthier and more educated than the Toronto average. Based on demographic data from Wards 25 and 26, we hypothesized that the affluent economic status of the community surrounding Lyndhurst would enable them to purchase local foods with their disposable income . However, while studies have suspected that increased wealth and education lead to more local food support, this has not necessarily proven to be the case. A University of Guelph study of factors influencing the purchase intentions of Canadian consumers of locally produced foods found that socio-demographic characteristics play only a limited role in shaping local food purchase intentions (Cranfield et al, 2008).
Interviews with TRI staff showed a broad spectrum of ideas for internal and external partnerships:
- Rehab therapy for spinal cord injuries, neurological and cardiac rehab program;
- Partnerships with neighboring hospitals;
- Involvement of the Leaside Gardening Society volunteers;
- Partnership with farm stand / farmers markets;
- Patient job placement;
- Involvement of caregiver accompanying patient to Rehab centres.
1.4.5 Responsible Staff
The reliance on staff will depend on which model of governance is pursued, ie. Management by UHN staff or by an external strategic partner.
Early support was established in January 2016 with Lyndhurst’s executive staff. Authorization was made to contact internal and external stakeholders. Interviews were performed with TRI staff and partners of the Lyndhust site.
In response to a staff survey about the program, nearly all respondents involved in patient care said they would be interested (65%) or might be interested (34%) in getting their patients involved at the urban farm.
Figure 3: Site map of the TRI Lyndhurst facility
1.5 Moving Forward
Toronto is at an ideal time for the adoption of urban farming projects. New urban agriculture action plans and bylaws have been implemented as recently as 2015 supporting urban farming ventures. As the current market near TRI Lyndhurst site is not saturated, there is ample space for a new local produce vendor to be successful.
UHN has taken a cautious and thorough approach with the project. Given the natural advantages of the site, including an area adjacent to the existing building that could accommodate a large greenhouse, attached to the hospital, the facility is in an enviable position. A four season greenhouse attached to the main building would make TRI/Lyndhurst a leader in hospital/food integration, enabling ground-breaking assessment of the physical and mental therapeutic benefits of food production in a healthcare setting. Either production model—with a farmer on staff to lead rehab / therapy sessions, or with an ‘outside’ farmer to maximize production—appears viable, providing the hospital with the flexibility to choose the model that best suits their goals.