Thursday, June 12, 2014

TELUS Community Rooftop Garden

Rooftop gardens have become a much more common sight over the past few years. Just drive along the Gardiner Expressway and check out the green roofs on all those condos - even trees are being planted above our heads! These urban gardens serve a number of purposes, including aiding in keeping heating and cooling costs down in a building, helping to combat air pollution (so important in our downtown core!), as well as providing a pleasant and beautiful environment for building residents in an otherwise concrete jungle. But why not take this one step further and go beyond decorative gardens of flowers and shrubs, and introduce vegetables, herbs, and fruits?

Last week I was invited to visit Toronto's first corporate urban garden, at TELUS House in downtown Toronto. It was a beautiful day, and the garden set-up was really quite exciting to this gardening gal. (I may have asked permission to pinch the suckers off some tomato plants - can't help myself!)

This rooftop garden was created to maximize the green space at the building and generate fresh, local, organic produce for team members and local charitable organizations including Toronto-based charity, The Stop Community Food Centre, in addition to giving team members a chance to learn about sustainability through educational workshops and hands-on learning. TELUS staff, volunteering on their Green Team, Communities Growing Together (CGT), a collective initiative focused on addressing urban food security, sustainability and community empowerment through a palette of artful co-created growing projects, and the building owners, Menkes, will work together to tend the garden throughout the season.

TELUS Green Team watering garden
A TELUS Green Team member waters the marigolds
This year marks the beginning of the endeavour, and a testing phase. Renée Nadeau, an Urban Garden Consultant, has been brought on as the garden's Curator, and she has chosen plants and locations on the roof to experiment with what will grow best where. Rooftop gardening brings its own particular challenges with intense sun, high winds, pollution, and more. As soil is being brought in, and the building structure and strength has to be considered in terms of the weight of soil the roof can hold, we are essentially talking about container gardening. Soil levels, drainage, and moisture retention, as well as nutrient composition and extra fertilising all have to be considered.
Renée Nadeau leads garden tour TELUS
Renée Nadeau leading a tour of the garden
The beds are a mix of elevated and low to the ground and house a large variety of plants. There are numerous tomato varieties, beans, peas, carrots, lettuce, beets, radishes, a variety of herbs, and more. Plantings have been planned to make the best use of space and light, including nasturtiums planted to cascade down over the sides of the higher planters for visual appeal. (They're edible - you know that, right?) Companion plants have also been put in, specifically marigolds, to help combat pests such as nematodes. Irrigation pipes have been placed in the beds, and a layer of mulch helps to regulate soil temperature and conserve moisture.
Marigolds provide an excellent, natural protection against certain pests in an organic garden.
TELUS is known for its efforts both in environmental sustainability and community involvement. During this garden unveiling event, the TELUS Toronto Community Board presented a cheque to Green Thumbs Growing Kids – a Greater Toronto Area-based non-profit registered charity. This group works with underprivileged urban children, youth and their families to teach them about growing and preparing fresh foods in an environmentally sustainable manner. A perfect match for this Urban Community Garden!

Members of Green Thumbs Growing Kids accept a donation from Andrea Goertz, Senior Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, and Chief Communications and Sustainability Officer, TELUS & Rod Phillips, Chair of the TELUS Toronto Community Board and Postmedia Network Canada Corp. Board Chair

In support of their philosophy to "give where they live," TELUS, team members and retirees have contributed more than $350 million to charitable and not-for-profit organizations and volunteered 5.4 million hours of service to local communities since 2000. This most recent effort will continue that philosophy and will, over time, provide healthy, fresh food to local community organisations. I've invited myself back later in the summer, to check out the progress in the gardens and see how the plants are liking their urban rooftop environment. If this test year goes well, there is an even bigger space that could be planted next summer!

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