Constant gardeners: Young Urban Farmers shows us how to cheat at backyard farming
Most urban foodies would love to grow their own organic spinach, but most of us barely have time to stop at Sobeys on our way home from work. Recognizing Torontonians’ collective lack of time (read: laziness), three recent business grads started Young Urban Farmers, a service that turns clients’ yards into produce departments. For $155, YUF plants a vegetable garden of the customer’s choosing, then builds a shelter to keep out the raccoons. For $495, they’ll weed, water and even harvest the bounty. This means that naughty hosts can claim their organic salad greens are from their own garden, without ever lifting a spade.
Co-owner Chris Wong sounds like a Fortune 500 CEO when he talks about marketing strategy, but mention tomatoes and he turns into a proud dad. “Some of them are pushing 10 feet now,” he beams. Wong and partners Nancy Hyunh and Jing Loh chose the direction of their business when they were studying at Queen’s. “We’d all helped our parents garden,” said Wong, “and we knew urbanites were interested in local food.”
That’s an understatement; “fresh and local” has been the mantra of Toronto chefs for years now, and Young Urban Farmers has found a way to cash in on the trend as it evolves into urban agriculture initiatives. The practice is becoming increasingly evident, from beehives on the roof of the Royal York Hotel to chickens in backyard coops. Last winter, the Design Exchange hosted Carrot City, an exhibit showcasing how Hogtown’s ravines can produce crops, and Foodshare was advocating growing corn along the Gardiner Expressway.
Another example: YUF found it tough to sell its service to homeowners when the farmers started knocking on doors in the winter, but word is now spreading quickly, and Wong plans to expand next spring. Don’t be surprised if the neighbours start bragging about their home-grown eggplant. They might not be lying.