Urban farm planting seeds of change in McQuesten

treesA banner in the McQuesten neighbourhood meeting room is covered in brightly coloured drawings of veggies and fruit. There’s a market stand. Greenhouses. People. And even a cow. Bold statements like “food oasis,” “80% production,” “school trips” and “from observer to farmer” punctuate the pictures.

This is the neighbourhood’s vision for the McQuesten urban farm—a city-owned, three-acre field behind the former St. Helen’s school on Brittania Avenue.

The farm — Hamilton’s first and still in the design phase — has its roots in the neighbourhood plan. McQuesten is currently home to a community garden, but the farm will be more than that. “Farming is an economic activity,” says project coordinator, Adam Watson. “Yes, we’re promoting healthy eating, community engagement and food security—the nearest grocery store is two kilometers away—but we’ll also be generating revenue, offering training and, potentially, employment.”

The farm is breaking new ground for Hamilton, since zoning didn’t originally permit agriculture within the urban boundary. Money-making opportunities include selling produce and value-added products (think McQuesten salsa), growing seedlings for the city’s community gardens, supplying school nutrition programs and hosting school tours. “It’s a destination for education as much as food production,” Adam says. “People want their economic activities to give back to the community.”

HCF’s support to the Urban Farm was doubled when the Foundation connected with a grant-matching program offered by the U.S.-based Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities.  As a result, a new staff member started in February. “We call her a farm animator for a reason,” Adam says. “It’s her job to make the site come alive.” This summer she will be running low-cost gardening camps for up to 150 children and youth. Future activities may include cooking classes, tours and a farm volunteer program.

Partners, including the City of Hamilton and Hamilton Victory Gardens, are working with the neighbourhood to take the farm from the seed of an idea to a full-grown operation. The ownership model is a work in progress, but the goal is to have the farm run by a community partner. “This is a pilot project for Hamilton,” Adam says. “There’s great potential here for the whole city.”

Excerpt from 2015 Annual Report