Before I discovered Fresh City Farms, buying fruit and vegetables usually meant an uninspiring trip to the grocery store, or a visit to the farmer’s market as a rare treat—if it wasn’t raining that Saturday and I happened to have three hours to spare. Let’s be honest. For many of us, living and working in downtown Toronto doesn’t leave much time for cooking, much less taking the time to figure out where your salad mix came from.
Perhaps I’m spewing a bit of 100 Mile rhetoric here, but I gotta say, this whole Fresh City lifestyle kinda changed my life. Now, I come home every other Thursday excited to unpack a bag of local, organic fruits and vegetables, to to create new dishes that I may never have thought of but for the ingredients that I was presented with. If you follow my Instagram account, you will no doubt see that I post a lot of photos of the fresh bag contents and usually what I make with it (unless I consume it too quickly). I hope to post a few more “In My Kitchen” posts with these items soon.
The best part is, save some items that are sourced from neighbouring businesses, most of the items are grown on six acres of land and a greenhouse right in here in Toronto’s Downsview Park. Kind of crazy to think about, isn’t it?
With a high level of curiosity and a flexible summer schedule, I wanted to see the farm for myself, if for no other purpose than to get a little extra fresh air. So, I signed up for Fresh City Farms’ Internship Program, packed my Tretorn rainboots, and took the subway (yes, subway) up early in the morning. Little did I realize how much I would learn.
Let’s take this beautiful zucchini as an example. Though I love to eat and cook with them (and the flowers too), I didn’t really know much more about how they grew. As my very first task, I was given a small harvesting knife, and taught how to judge the size and shape of each to determine whether it was ripe for the picking. Sometimes I would waffle back and forth on this decision because, apparently, zucchini grow incredibly fast. If you miss one for a few days, it may surely grow to an unusable size. But I remembered those little guys I turned down. And two days later, when I returned to them, they were perfect. I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of any gourd in my life.
Whether it was a fellow intern, a Member Farmer, or one of the Fresh City staff members, I learned so many interesting things from everyone I spoke with. In fact, let me tell you about a few of them.
Meet Ashley, a lovely human being with whom I originally bonded while picking sugar snap peas. Having already completed a Double Major in Psychology and Sociology, she is currently finishing a post-grad certificate in Sustainable Agriculture from Flemming College in Lindsay and beginning prerequisites to study Naturopathy in January.
Ashley first got involved with Fresh City about three years ago when she was taking their organic gardening workshop and immediately fell in love with the whole concept of urban agriculture. Unhappy with where her career was headed, she realized that the most effective way to help other people would be through food education. As she explains, “what sealed the deal for me was when I discovered that I had food intolerances and sensitivities that were misdiagnosed and mistreated, and have been effecting my health for over ten years. As a result, our food system became a very personal issue for me and drives me to help others improve their health through diet and natural approaches, while teaching them the value of growing their own nutrient-dense food.”
There’s also the regular staff. Jessica is Fresh City’s Assistant Farm Manager. Originally from the States, she moved here with her Canadian husband and has now made Toronto her home. While she’s got a good grip on everything, her real specialty and love are the flowers. “I like to grow flowers that remind people of what they used to see in their grandmother’s garden,” she describes of her business (have a look at Sweet Gale Gardens). Jessica and fellow farmers were also selling their blooms at the Toronto Flower Market this summer. Hannah is the the Farm Manager. Having only started this position in February 2014, she says she feels like she’s been here forever. From the expertise and familiarity she has with every nook and cranny of the farm, I would say that’s a fair statement. Her parents are both farmers, so she also learned the ropes from a young age.
There are also people like Sri. As a project manager at Cognizant Technology Solutions and a mechanical engineer, Sri’s not your typical farm intern. His desire to learn more about the farm comes from an entirely personal health-focused and food-loving place. Finally, there’s Maxime. As one of the youngest here, he is currently finishing his second year of a Agricultural Engineering degree from France. As part of his program, he is required to do an internship in an English-speaking country, hence, how he found himself here. Both his parents are farmers as well and he hopes to take much of what he learned in Canada back to France.
It was a wonderful experience.
Final Note: If you’re still thinking about whether or not you want to make the switch to a Fresh City Farms bag, feel free to contact me. I get a regular Fruit and Veggie bag for $28 plus the cost ($3.50 in my case) for delivery, every other week. I also sometimes add something fun like flowers or Monforte Dairy’s cheese of the week. You can also put a hold on your order at any time, which is awesome if you have an unpredictable schedule or you know you will be traveling. It’s a great price and a great way to encourage your creativity in the kitchen too. When you do decide you want to sign up, enter the code FRESHFRIEND and mention my name (Annie Chu) in the appropriate box for a referral discount.