Elevating Food Choices and Food Education with Elevated Eats, a Rooftop Farm

Friday, July 29, 2016

You know what goes on inside of Yorkdale Shopping Mall, but do you know what’s been growing on top of it?

photo provided by Frank Ferragine

At the beginning of the 2016 growing season, Frank Ferragine, also know as Frankie Flowers, officially launched Elevated Eats — an urban test farm — on top of Yorkdale Shopping Centre.

As Canada’s trusted gardening expert, Frankie’s green thumb has reached far and wide throughout the province, and he’s now elevated that refined green touch to higher ground.

The ultimate goal? To elevate food education and food choices for everyone. Produce from the first season is being donated to local food banks, and, as part of the initiative, Elevated Eats have developed curriculum-based education materials for primary school teachers.

Elevated Eats will grow more than 30 varieties of seasonal vegetables and fruits, including green beans, cucumbers, swiss chard, eggplant, kale, lettuce, pea shoots, sweet peppers, hot peppers and tomatoes; as well as herbs such as basil, chives, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and thyme.

“We always donate processed food to food banks,” Ferragine shares, “so why not start providing them with fresh choices, elevating food choices for them too?”

June saw Elevated Eat’s first harvest, and they filled 5 crates with leaf and butter crunch lettuce for donation to the Daily Bread Food Bank.

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 2.59.04 PMThe educational component consists of 10 lesson plans for grades 1-3 based on the Ontario Curriculum. Various lessons look at nutrient recycling, types of bugs in the garden, hands-on gardening skills, pollination, healthy soils, plant anatomy and more. Visit the Frankie Flowers website here to access these great resources, and to learn more about Frank and his work.

The nickname Frankie Flower’s doesn’t come lightly — Frank’s family history is rooted in growing. His immediate family is one of the province’s largest growers of annual flowering plants, herbs and vegetable plants. And his cousin currently farms over 300 acres of greens in the Holland Marsh.

Prior to Elevated Eats, Frank was working with Yorkdale for over a year helping to improve the design of plant material inside the shopping centre (e.g. themed plantings celebrating each shopping season). For Elevated Eats, Ferragine explains, “Yorkdale was an easy selection given our relationship and their willingness to do something to benefit the surrounding community. We had some challenges but in the end our 2016 Elevated Eat Test Farm was born!”

Ferragine was initially inspired by an urban farming project at Fenway Park in Boston that was feeding patron’s with food grown on the rooftop through a project created by Green City Growers. Wanting to bring a similar concept to Toronto, Ferragine came up with the idea for Elevated Eats, but further augmented the concept by adding an educational component and the desire to increase food choices for food banks.

With these two aims in mind, Frank explains that the project doesn’t always necessarily have to be on a roof: this is a test farm with the objective being to learn what grows best, in terms of yields and timing.

photo provided by Frank FerragineBut it is with hopes that when Elevated Eats reaches its full capacity, the space will eventually be able to supply Yorkdale restaurants with produce for their menus as well, bringing local, fresh food to more people.

Like other notable urban farm projects across the city, Ferragine has helped to prove that rooftop farming is a highly successful way to turn ‘grey space’ into ‘green space’, and get more fresh, locally-sourced food to urban communities.

Elevated Eats has come to fruition with support from Yorkdale Shopping Centre, Frankie Flowers, Bradford Greenhouses Garden Gallery, Scotts Miracle Gro Canada, Southwest Greens, IFCO, and Bonnie Plants, with hands-on work being done by Frankie Flowers and 10 volunteers.

Photos provided by Frank Ferragine.