March 06

Urban agriculture transformed

By Sean Meyer


The mission of Urban Roots is to grow a self-sustaining, urban agricultural model for the Forest City.

That lofty goal, ironically enough, takes a lot of its inspiration from the Motor City.

Richie Bloomfield, along with fellow directors Heather Bracken, Graham Bracken, Jeremy Horrell, Jacob Damstra, and Wendy Russell, make up Urban Roots. The organization is — in a formal sense at least — a non-profit organization that revitalizes underused land in London for agriculture.

The group’s mission is to produce organic vegetables and herbs, distribute the produce locally, while also developing agricultural opportunities for neighbourhoods, social enterprises, and community organizations within the Forest City.

Richie explains the project’s inspiration probably started when Heather and Graham visited a city that has more than a little in common with London.

“They visited Detroit because they had heard about the urban farm scene, there are a lot of fascinating things going on there after the auto sector collapse,” Richie said. “They got really inspired and found there were a lot of parallels to London. It’s a bit of a blue-collar city, it’s lost a lot of manufacturing jobs, has a lot of empty space, and people looking for things to transition into. So, they thought urban farming might be one of those opportunities.”

Urban Roots only launched last year, but still managed to donate roughly 40 percent of what they produced, about 1,000 lbs. of food total — beats, turnips, tomatoes, various other greens.

“We were always passionate at the start to say this is a model that can fund itself, at least operating costs,” Richie said. “That was the struggle we saw in some of these really awesome urban farms in Detroit. They were starting to struggle because they were losing funding from the municipal government. So, we said let’s find a way we can sell enough of the produce we grow to pay for the rest of the donation.”

While tending to the crops is an important part of Urban Roots, so too is nurturing the infrastructure of the organization.

That support has been fed through Urban Roots being a part of the Libro Credit Union’s incubator sponsorship program.

That program has allowed Urban Roots a six-month stay at Innovation Works, an experience Richie describes as having been “just awesome” since beginning in January.

“It’s that connection to someone else in the community, which we otherwise would have had a more challenging time with,” he said. “The fact of having meeting space has been wonderful. It’s nice to have a white board and a proper board table to have these discussions around. And the people have been pretty great too.”

While Urban Roots is enjoying its growth, Richie said the members are even more excited by all the things that could happen as an extension of the project.

Growth, it seems, has been inevitable. After all, last year Urban Roots had a 90 ft. X 90 ft. lot from which to launch from.

It seems 2018 has even brighter days ahead.

“We’re going to be at least tripling that this year. We have about two-and-a-half acres of workable space,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to narrow the future in and give it a smaller focal point because there are so many things we see potential for, which is exciting. It’s a labour of love.”

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