When you drive into London from the 401, it's easy to spot the McDonald's golden arches beckoning from Highbury and Hamilton Road.

But look a little closer. A block west on Norland Ave. is a vegetable garden belonging to the newly formed urban farming non-profit.

"A lot of what we want to do with our project is change people's perceptions," said Graham Bracken, who launched Urban Roots last year with his wife, Heather, and their friends Richie Bloomfield and Jeremy Horrell.

"When they drive up Highbury and look out and see a small farm where there used to be just grass, we want people to go, 'That's something we can do everywhere in the city."

Urban Roots planted the garden in Juneā€”late in the growing season by most farmers' standards.

urban roots farm

The Urban Roots "pilot" site is located at Highbury Avenue and Hamilton Road. The organization hopes to open at least two more sites in the city. (Submitted)

The group has so far produced 447 kg of produce, with 181 kg donated to charity, said Bracken.

But that's just a starting point, he added. They see the three-acre plot of land as a "pilot project," and hope to soon open second and third sites elsewhere in the city.

Growing food and eating it. A strategy to address food insecurity?

Last month, London city council approved an urban agricultural strategy, which drew in part on Urban Roots as a case study for other groups to follow.

Urban Roots itself was based in part on the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative, which Bracken visited during a trip to Detroit.

"They have a farm in sort of this blighted moonscape that used to be the Detroit suburbs. When we were there, a couple people from the neighbourhood just walked up and said 'Hey do you have any food?' and those people walked away with ten pounds of greens,'" said Bracken.

Bracken said he hopes urban farming could make a similar dent in London's food insecurity problem.

After all, if Londoners can grow their own food, there's potential that they could also eat it.

"There are a lot of areas in the city that qualify as food deserts, where the only thing people have is a corner store. And in places like that there's a lot of potential."

Beyond the simple fact of growing food for people to eat, Bracken said that urban farming could also help bolster London's economy.

Graham Bracken

Graham Bracken spoke with Rebecca Zandbergen during CBC's Sounds of the Season kick-off Dec. 1. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC News)

He sees agriculture as a way of filling some of the gaps left by the decline of manufacturing in the area.  

For now, he hopes that their farm on Highbury Ave. will open people's minds about the potential of urban agriculture.

"Once you see space that is potentially useful for food production you can see it anywhere," he said.

"You can see container planting in unused parking lots. You can see people's front yards, which are currently lawns, being turned into productive agriculture. You can see industrial rooftops turning into gardens."


Sounds of the Season is our month-long campaign in support of the London Food Bank. We're raising money throughout December, and hosting two live shows Dec. 1 and 12.

Join the conversation and follow along throughout Sounds of the Season in the month of December by tagging @cbclondon and using the hashtag #cbcsotsont.

Growing food and eating it. A strategy to address food insecurity?

Last month, London city council approved an urban agricultural strategy, which drew in part on Urban Roots as a case study for other groups to follow.

Urban Roots itself was based in part on the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative, which Bracken visited during a trip to Detroit.