Greenest City

Greenest City is a community-based charitable organization dedicated to building healthy, inclusive neighbourhoods through community gardening and the celebration of food.

Our Impact Why We Exist

We engage participants of all ages in hands-on programs that build community, develop skills and knowledge, promote active and healthy choices, and create opportunities for social and environmental change. Built on the values of Diversity, Respect, Leadership, Personal Growth and Collaboration, Greenest City embraces the commonalities and the contradictions inherent in a diverse urban community and strives to facilitate experiences in which all participants can find meaning and relevance.

Our Story What We Do

History of Organization

Founded in 1996, Greenest City has acted as a project incubator, creating city-wide projects, building capacity, and then releasing these projects to the care of the partners and participants, ex., Active & Safe Routes to School, Idle-free Toronto and 18 multicultural greening projects. In 2006, Greenest City shifted its organizational model and focused towards place-based solutions. In 2007, the organization opened an office space in South Parkdale. With a renewed focus on urban agriculture and food security, Greenest City unveiled its first garden, HOPE Community Garden and other programs including workshops and a youth summer employment program. 2008 and 2009 have seen the continuation and expansion of what was launched in 2007. The number of garden plots, workshops, public events, festivals, field trips, staff and volunteers all increased to double or more in size. A youth garden was unveiled, new projects like a rainwater harvesting tank and programming for the local ESL students were implemented. These all provide an opportunity for community members to come together and celebrate the community through food, stories and art.

Accolades and Accomplishments

Conservation Toronto and Region Certificate of Appreciation (2000)

Etobicoke /York Heart and Health Network Certificate of Recognition (2001)&(2006)

Ontario Ministry of the Environment (2001) Award of Excellence for Anti-Idling Campaign

Government of Canada's National Resources Office Award of Recognition (2003)

City of Toronto Best Skills Development Award (2006)

Wellesley Institute 10 in 10 Urban Health Award (2008)

Environmental Award of Excellence – Green Toronto Awards (2008)

Green Toronto Awards (2009)Environmental Award of Excellence

Ontario Trillium Foundation Great Grants – Award finalist, (2009)

Toronto Community Foundation Vital Youth Award (2009)&(2011)

Toronto Community Foundation Vital People Award (2010)

Toronto Community Foundation Vital Ideas Award (2011)

Our Programs How We Do It

Greenest City’s innovative programs engage diverse communities to produce locally grown food, educate and empower them in their awareness of healthy food, environment, and increase their participation in community building. We believe that in order to have a liveable and vibrant Toronto, the people in the different communities of the city should take active roles in defining their neighbourhoods. Using food as the foundation on which all people and cultures connect with each other, we grow the possibilities and scope within which we can live, learn and enjoy the richness of Toronto. Greenest City has three integrated program areas: urban agriculture, environmental education, and food security. Each of these programs help shape our goals and our understanding of what we can do to create and encourage meaningful positive change in our community.

Co-op Cred Program

The CCP helps to address the issue that people in our city are food insecure. We do this by assuring access to fresh, healthy food that directly contributes to participant's physical health. Another big success of the CCP has been the mental health benefits of participants getting back into the community, getting in the garden, regaining the dignity of the power to choose their food.

Food insecurity puts families and individuals at higher risk for many poor health outcomes including reported poorer physical and mental health and a range of chronic diseases.” - Toronto Vital Signs pg 98

Urban Agriculture

The Urban Agriculture program seeks to promote agriculture in our city. Greenest City has been participating in urban agriculture work since 1996, currently we hold three active plots of land: HOPE community garden, the Dunn Parkette Educational Garden and the Milky Way Garden. Through hands-on activities, workshops and field trips, we help create an understanding of the interconnectedness between healthy living and a healthy environment while providing space for the community to grow its own food. 

Funding and Program Partners

The Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) supported the creation of this program (2008-2010), with the Province of Ontario’s Community Go Green Fund and the City of Toronto's Live Green program providing grants (2008, 2010) to build programming that is relevant to the diverse community that calls Parkdale home. In 2011, Greenest City has received a grant from the Toronto Community Foundation to increase our capacity to help other neighbourhoods implement similar programming. This program has been delivered in partnership with the City of Toronto and 9 community organizations, including the Parkdale Activity and Recreation Centre, the Parkdale Intercultural Association and Sketch. We have continued to have support from OTF and currently have a grant from them to work with the Toronto Urban Growers to promote and expand Urban Agriculture across Toronto.

Program Impact

Since 2007, our Urban Agriculture program has engaged over 1200 participants with over 2000 community members attending workshops, special events and field trips, created over 800m2 of garden space, donated food to local meal programs and food banks, and established a participant base in which over 80% of participants represent racialized communities and/or recent immigrants.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

  • "1 in 10 Toronto households live without food security."
  • "37% of Toronto residents relying on food banks in 2009-2010 had been in the city for less than 5 yrs."
  • "10% of Torontonian’s fresh vegetables could be grown on underdeveloped land and processed within the city."

(Toronto’s Vital Signs®)

Our Urban Agriculture programs provide access to growing space and teaches the necessary skills for residents,including newcomers and youth, to grow and prepare their own food. In creating a safe space for people to connect, there is also an increased sense of belonging.

Participant Vignette

Ivona and her two children were newcomers to HOPE garden in 2009. She put her name on the waiting list in 2008 and waited patiently for an opportunity to get a plot in her neighbourhood community garden. Ivona grew up in rural Poland and when she immigrated to Toronto and had her own children, she really wanted her kids to garden. “I thought that it would be a nice picture to show my kids where their food comes from.” Ivona was often seen in the garden in the early mornings. While other gardeners came to their plots twice a week, Ivona was there “at least 10 times a week, especially when it was hot, I was here two times a day.” Her six year old daughter, Maya, especially loved coming to the garden. Maya would beg her mother to go to the garden during Greenest City’s weekly Children’s Garden Drop-In session. “Maya loved coming so much that she would skip soccer.” After her first season at HOPE, she’s excited to come back in 2010. “I’m still so excited about getting a plot! I’ve learned that there is nice community here. I wasn’t involved with anything in Parkdale before I came here. The HOPE garden keeps everyone in the neighbourhood together. My kids now know that food doesn’t have to come from a store. It actually grows in the ground and they can be involved. Thank you!”

Youth and Children's Programs

The young players in our city are an integral piece in defining Greenest City’s work and vision. Greenest City engages young people in building skills and knowledge in growing and preparing food. Our children’s programs encourage the smallest members of our community to explore the world of food through art, games and songs in the garden. Our weekly after-school program for 13-to-15 yr-olds integrates hands-on activities in the gardens and the kitchens with leadership development. These participants are guided by our Youth Mentors, a team of 8 to 10 young people who have been through the program and are interested in adopting a stronger leadership role with their peers. And our Youth Green Squad provides summer jobs to high school students, in which they work in the gardens, lead community service projects and participate in knowledge-building workshops.

Funding and Program Partners

Service Canada generously supported the inception of the Youth Green Squad (2007-2010) while Growing the Future was seeded by the Toronto Community Foundation (2009) and Heifer International (2009). The program is currently funded by the Telus Community Fund and the Paloma Foundation. Development and implementation grants have been received from TD Friends of the Environment Foundation (2009, 2010) and the Toronto Live Green Community Fund (2010). All youth and children’s programs are run with the support of Parkdale Collegiate Institute, Queen Victoria P.S and other local schools and community daycare centres.

Program Impact

To date, Greenest City has hired over 40 youth as full-time members of the Youth Green Squad. These youth have attended 25 workshops, 15 field trips, and received 30 free bikes over the course of three summers. Growing the Future has had an average attendance of 30 youth, and through over 80 hours of annual programming, they learn not only about healthy food, but also about the food system and how it affects their life, the environment and the world. Since 2008, we have weekly children’s garden activities during the growing season in which they learn about gardening as well as have fun through arts and crafts, games etc.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

  • “The youth unemployment rate in the Region surpassed 20 per cent in June 2009"
  • "After-school programs make a critical difference in safety and skill development: Between 3 to 6 p.m., unsupervised children are more likely to engage in gang-related or delinquent behaviour, or become victims of crime.”

(Toronto’s Vital Signs®)

Greenest City’s Youth Green Squad project provides jobs as environmental leaders to high school students over the summer. They participate in trainings and workshops, visit organic farms, present at conferences, and successfully complete a variety of projects. The newly launched weekly, after-school program “Growing the Future” engages youth 13 - 15 years old in learning about, growing and cooking healthy food.

Participant Vignette

Sixteen year-old Miguel was a Growing the Future pioneer, coming out to the first session to see what the program was about. After preparing a meal together, it became clear that this quiet, shy young man already had a well-developed interest in cooking. At the end of that session, Miguel reported that a highlight of the afternoon was ‘cooking and meeting the people there – I really enjoyed cooking with them.’ Miguel continued to come out to the program, slowly gaining confidence in sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with the group while learning new skills from program staff, adult volunteers and visiting ‘guest chefs’. During that first year, Miguel was one of a handful of youth who achieved perfect attendance. In fall of 2010, Miguel took his growing passion for food and accepted a high school co-op placement at a well-known, local-food-focused neighbourhood restaurant. He impressed the staff there with his confidence and skill in the kitchen, and they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse - the chance to begin an official chef apprenticeship in their kitchen while finishing his Secondary School diploma.

Miguel moved on from Growing the future and was a member of the 2011 Youth Green Squad

Healthy Communities

Our Healthy Communities program fulfills our idea of a healthy city in which the people are active and connected to each other. Our festivals, potlucks, volunteer appreciation events and community kitchens bring together community residents who share their experience, skills and ideas to a larger group, allowing them to take leadership roles. We serve fresh vegetables and herbs grown from our gardens in our events, demonstrating the vitality and enjoyment of eating tasty, nutritious food. From our gardens to our website, we support the arts and the artists through colourful murals, design projects etc. to create a vibrant and creative space. Our youth are provided free bikes during the summer to encourage cycling. The annual Parkdale Food, Earth and Culture festival is a celebration of the diversity of cultures in Parkdale, healthy food and environmental awareness. Through food, music and colours (among others) Greenest City is redefining what a healthy city means for everyone.

Funding and Program Partners

The Ontario Trillium Foundation and the City of Toronto have generously supported this program for the past 3 years (2008-2010). An expanded community arts project has been made possible for 2010 and 2011 through the support of the Toronto Community Arts Council, allowing us to build to begin the process of planning a larger community-driven piece integrating gardening, food and art.

Program Impact

In 2009, Greenest City hosted four community-wide potlucks, each attended by an average of forty people - by 2010, the average attendance rose to 80. Food for the potlucks were contributed by the community and prepared by the Youth Green Squad who also helped prepare food for four community agencies. Our community kitchens were led by residents who cooked ethnic dishes from their native countries. We have hosted volunteer appreciation events where our participants were feted with awards, gifts and delicious food. The annual Parkdale Food, Earth and Culture festival in 2009 attracted over 600 people, featuring a wide range of musicians, exhibitors and food vendors from Parkdale.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

  • "Almost 13 percent of Canadian households are "food insecure," meaning they lack reliable and consistent access to affordable, nutritious food."
  • Cities alive with culture attract creative people. The City of Toronto’s plan to build cultural capacity – growing the creative sectors, and supporting lively cultural expression at the neighbourhood level, is based on the conviction that creativity is the basis of a strong and prosperous City."

(Toronto's Vital Signs®)

Participant Vignette

Lobsang, a Tibetan who studied in a monastery in South India, first experienced gardening at Greenest City through the ESL class that he attended in the Parkdale library. His teacher, who loved gardening and wanted her students to experience that in Toronto, arranged with Greenest City to have a plot for her class and weekly sessions in the HOPE garden. Lobsang loved the weekly visits to the garden. “It’s nice to come out of the class and work in nature,” Lobsang said. Eventually, his teacher found out that he was also a very talented artist, and when Greenest City found out, they offered him a chance to share his artistic talent on their newly placed garden shed in HOPE garden. Lobsang started work right away, and after about a week’s time, unveiled a beautiful mural of a country-side with green rolling hills and a field where Tibetan women were planting and harvesting. The staff at Greenest City loved it, along with the people in the garden and Parkdale. “It was very uplifting,” said Lobsang. “Every time someone passed by while I was painting, they would say how pretty it looked. It gave me a real sense of purpose in that I am contributing to the beauty of this garden and Parkdale.” Lobsang is now a fully committed artist in Toronto.

What You Can Do

Co-op Cred Program

 

Activities a donation will support

    • Credits at West End Food Co-op for participants to purchase healthy, local, ecologically produced food
    • Workshops for participants such as - Food Handling certification, Healthy Eating, Knife Skills, Public Speaking, Saving Seeds, and more
    • Development and expansion of the CCP in order for more partners and participants to benefit from the program

    Donation impact

    Grants to this program will increase our ability:

    • to increase the food security of low-income community members
    • Support people in building employment and life skills
    • Assist people in getting involved in their community, organizations, and workplaces, while building confidence 
    • increase the awareness of other organizations, opportunities and choices through the workshops and field trips
    • to support new groups and initiatives in other Toronto communities

    Urban Agriculture

    Activities a donation will support

    • Seeds, seedlings, plant materials (soil, mulch) and garden supplies for the community gardens
    • Field trips for participants to places like nature reserves, organic farms, etc.
    • Workshops on gardening, seed saving, herbal pesticides, etc.
    • Maintaining the gardens through repairs (fence, gate), adding container boxes, etc.
    • Development and coordination of the Urban Agriculture Program, including the integration and expansion of the components listed above.

    Donation impact

    Grants to this program will increase our ability:

    • to grow healthy, sustainable food
    • educate the community on matters of community gardening, healthy food and living
    • include more members of the community to participate in our work
    • increase the awareness of other organizations, opportunities and choices through the workshops and field trips
    • to support new groups and initiatives in other Toronto communities
    • to provide more activities for the community members to partake in

    Youth and Children's Programs

    Activities a donation will support

    • Youth Green Squad program: funding youth and program coordinator salary, work-related expenses, supplies (bike helmets, gardening tools), bikes, workshops, field trips, appreciation events etc.
    • Growing the Future: coordination expenses, workshops, food, materials etc.
    • Installation and maintenance of children’s garden space.
    • Kitchen equipment, art supplies, gardening tools, healthy snacks, and T-shirts for participants.
    •  Youth program development and co-ordination of programming for all ages.

    Donation impact

    Grants to this program will help us hire more youth; increase our capacity to educate and empower them to be leaders in the community; broaden our scope and capacity for Growing the Future program; create additional gardening space for our younger participants; and get more youth and children interested and active in environmental, food, and community building work.

    Healthy Communities

    Activities a donation will support

    • Food for potlucks and community meals.
    • Materials costs and honoraria for community art projects integrating art (broadly-defined) with community, gardening and food.
    • Food and coordination costs of community kitchens and canning workshops.

    Donation impact

    The funds for this program will create a more lively and healthy community in Parkdale. The festivals, potlucks, community meals and other events will foster relationships and allow community members to connect with each other through food and healthy living. The use of healthy ingredients will raise the health of the people and awareness on these issues. The arts and culture component of this program will create a vibrant space in Parkdale where people can express their creativity and cultures. The activities in the garden and surrounding areas will also raise the safety and use of public park and spaces.

    Contact

    Ayal Dinner
    Executive Director
    647.438.0038
    Charitable Number: 888768413RR0001

    Finance & Governance

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