GrowTO Urban Agriculture Action Plan, Toronto: Urban Food Policy Snapshot

by Cameron St. Germain

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy name: GrowTO Urban Agriculture Action Plan

Location: Toronto, Canada

  • Population: 2.6 million

Food policy category: Sustainable agriculture

Program goals

  • Provide urban farmers with more spaces where they can produce food
  • Promoting existing education programs and develop new education programs about urban agriculture
  • Increase publicity and marketing of urban agriculture
  • Direct more funding towards urban agriculture
  • Increase composting
  • Change local laws to make urban agriculture easier and more profitable

Program initiation

  • The GrowTO plan was released by the Toronto Food Policy Council in 2012. The plan was a collaborative effort by multiple food and environmental organizations in the city.
  • The Toronto City Council officially adopted the GrowTO plan in 2012, and in 2013 released the Toronto Agricultural Program, which recorded the progress of urban agriculture in Toronto and proposed future actions the city could take to accomplish the goals of the GrowTO plan.
  • The Toronto Agriculture Program also led to the establishment of a Steering Committee made up of City Staff from a number of different divisions as well as instrumental community partners. This Steering Committee was tasked with overseeing an outlined initial short-term and long-term work plan.

How it works

The GrowTO Urban Agriculture Action Plan outlines six priorities: linking growers to land and space, strengthening education and training, increasing visibility and promotion, adding value to urban gardens, cultivating relationships, and developing supportive policies.

The first priority, linking growers to land and space, involves taking an inventory of all the public spaces in the city which may be good locations for urban farming, and making those spaces available to groups who want to open new urban farms.

The second priority, strengthening education and training, incorporates multiple goals. One is developing a K-12 curriculum on food literacy and farming skills. Another involves starting community classes that are open to everyone, which would be on topics including composting, food growing, and business planning.

To increase visibility and promotion, the action plan proposes creating a “Grown in TO” brand so customers can easily identify locally grown food. The plan also proposes other marketing strategies, including an expanded, comprehensive website, walking and bike tours, food festivals, and a city awards program, among others.

The section on adding value to urban farms focuses on funding for urban agriculture, with strategies including creating city grants, creating crowd sourcing opportunities, and connecting social investors to farming initiatives. The plan also proposes using city waste to make compost and creating facilities to handle post-harvest food processing.

The action plan proposes cultivating relationships with various institutions, including universities, day care centers, senior housing facilities, city government branches, and various community groups. It includes a commitment to supporting the city’s Growing Food Justice For All Initiative.

Finally, the plan outlines many supportive policies which can stimulate urban agriculture in Toronto. Zoning laws should be updated, and residents should be allowed to keep hens in their back yards and sell the food they grow in their backyards at farmer’s markets, among other changes.

Progress to date

Numerous urban agriculture projects have popped up in Toronto since the GrowTO action plan was adopted. They are located in empty lots, on rooftops, in schoolyards, and on residents’ personal property.

Entrepreneurs and community organizers have looked to urban farming opportunities as a means of supporting economic development, the creation of small businesses, and to build up and enhance communities. Many farmers are now exploring ways to grow indoors or in shipping containers using hydroponics, or other systems, in addition to the many programs and businesses growing outside and in public spaces.

Through the Toronto Agriculture Program, the city has devoted significant time and energy to developing opportunities for urban farmers, such as allowing them to grow their own produce in hydro corridors. This begins to address the dilemma that many would-be farmers face in getting access to land in Toronto and being allowed to sell the food grown on that land.

Toronto has drawn a lot of attention for the development of an urban farm, Black Creek Community Farm, in the City’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood, in partnership with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. This farm has become an embedded part of the community and is a hub for food justice work. Based on the success of this farm, the city is currently exploring the feasibility of establishing another farm.

Why the program is important

Research has shown that urban agriculture is beneficial for human health as well as for the environment. Multiple studies have found that gardeners tend to eat more fruits and vegetables than non-gardeners. Urban farming also increases a community’s food security, since their food is less dependent on distant sources.

Urban agriculture can also lower a city’s greenhouse gas footprint. When more food is grown locally, rather than being shipped from hundreds of miles away, less carbon dioxide is burned in order to provide food to an urban population. In addition, urban agriculture offers the opportunity to reduce waste by composting, and to reduce the need to transport waste out of a city.


The Toronto Food Policy Council and Toronto Urban Growers have recently done a review of GrowTO as well as the Toronto Agriculture Program Work Plan, but a formal review of the work plan, making connections back to the goals outlined in GrowTO, needs to be brought back to the Toronto Agriculture Program Steering Committee at the City. This is expected to take place in 2017.

The Toronto Urban Growers, through Toronto Public Health, have also recently completed a report to develop urban agriculture indicators that would be used to measure the impact of urban agriculture within the City of Toronto.

Learn more

Point of contact

Similar practices

  • The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative has started a large urban agriculture project in Detroit, to combat both unemployment and food insecurity
  • Chicago recently began an urban farming initiative using federal grant money. The city will be hiring its first full-time urban agriculture coordinator to oversee the effort to establish more urban farms.

Photo credit: Jessica Reeve


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