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The Humber Food Learning Garden

Growing change at Humber 

Where does your food come from? Why does it matter? The Humber Food Learning Garden is a space for students and community members to learn about sustainable urban agriculture, local food security, and how to grow and harvest their own fresh, healthy food in whatever space is available to them. 



The Humber Food Learning Garden is a demonstration garden and outdoor classroom located behind the Humber College Residence Buildings on the Humber Arboretum grounds. Officially opened in 2018, this multi-use space exists to:

  • Support the learning of Humber College students in a variety of programs such as landscaping, horticulture, culinary arts, and Early Childhood Education as they learn how to tend, harvest, and teach in the garden
  • Help children taking part in the Humber Arboretum's Nature Day Camps understand where their food comes from and connect with the joy of growing and eating fresh herbs and vegetables
  • Host public workshops run in collaboration with a variety of community partners
  • Provide fresh, locally grown ingredients for use in dishes at The Humber Room, Humber College's student-run restaurant

Like many projects at Humber Arboretum, the creation of the Humber Food Learning Garden also provided hands-on learning opportunities for students who assisted in the construction of the garden, either as part of of the Landscape Technician Diploma program or as a work study employee.

Logo for Humber Centres of Innovation

The Humber Food Learning Garden is a joint initiative of Humber Arboretum and Humber College's Centre of Innovation in Health & Wellness. It was generously funded by a grant from TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.

Logo of the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation

What's in the Garden?

While the plantings change from year-to-year, most of what is harvested from the Humber Food Learning Garden will look familiar to food gardeners from around Southern Ontario:

  • cucumbers
  • sweet and hot peppers
  • tomatoes
  • leafy greens
  • selections from the cabbage family
  • a variety of herbs

Less common in the average backyard garden are the ornamental edibles – flowers which will add a splash of colour to the beds and a splash of flavor to salads, pasta, and other dishes. 

The Humber Food Learning Garden expands the local food production capacity of the Humber Arboretum, which also offers seasonal educational opportunities related to sustainable urban beekeeping and maple syrup production.

Did you know? The tall fencing surrounding the Food Learning Garden protects it from grazing by local wildlife, which is abundant at the Humber Arboretum. If given the chance, the groundhogs, rabbits, and white-tailed deer would all love to do a little food learning of their own!

A small sweet pepper grows

Looking down on leafy greens


The concept of food security is at once incredibly simple and incredibly complicated – simple because we can all understand that humans need a regular and dignified supply of safe, nourishing food to be healthy and active; complicated because that supply can be affected by wide-ranging factors such as income disparity, cultural norms, currency fluctuations, political stability, physical landscapes, natural disasters, and changing climate.

Problems with food security can occur at any point along a food system – during production, distribution, access, consumption, or even disposal, when unused nutrients are sent to landfills rather than being returned to the soil.

Often when people aren’t getting the nutrition they need it isn’t because there isn’t enough healthy food being produced, it’s because that food isn’t reaching the people who need it. In 2017, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimated that while more than enough food was being produced to feed the entire world, more than 815 million people went hungry.

Food deserts are urban or suburban areas within cities like Toronto where there is a lack of affordable sources of fresh, healthy food for local residents. It doesn’t mean there’s no food at all – fast food outlets, convenience stores, or high-end outlets could be present – but options such as budget-friendly grocery stores, food co-ops, farmers markets, or community gardens are missing.

Organizations such as the Toronto Food Policy Council work to track and help improve food assets in communities where they are lacking, but another way to help alleviate the problems of food deserts is to give people the skills and space to grow their own produce, right where they live.  

When food is grown locally and kept in the community, it typically not only improves local food security, it also helps the environment. A California strawberry that’s been driven here from over 4000 kilometers away has a much higher carbon footprint than one picked in a Toronto backyard! For people who are in a position to choose what they eat and where it comes from, opting for a mostly plant-based, local diet is one of the most immediate and relevant ways you can live a more sustainable life.

Beyond simply choosing to eat local food, learning to grow their own food makes people of all ages more alert to the natural world. There’s nothing like wondering how the garden is doing to make you pay attention to seasonal changes, rainy days and dry spells, and the importance of keeping local waterways and soil healthy.

A plant grows while a gardener leans on a shovel

A young girl smells an herb

The Humber Food Learning Garden is part of Humber College's efforts to promote the healthy development of children and youth through Applied Research & Innovation initiatives. As with the Humber Arboretum's existing nature education programming, the Food Learning Garden will aim to not only share information, but to encourage a personal connection between young people and the experience of growing and harvesting fresh food, aiming to inspire a lifetime of hands-in-the-dirt active living and healthy eating habits.

Community organizations interested in partnering on programming in the Humber Food Learning Garden are encouraged to contact the Humber Arboretum with your proposal. 

Supporting a Community for Healthy Kids

From spring 2016 to 2018, the Rexdale neighbourhood around the Humber Arboretum was one of 45 communities that participated in the Healthy Kids Community Challenge as part of Ontario's Healthy Kids Strategy. The Humber Arboretum participated in the Rexdale Foodie Festival and was the location for a food tower garden workshop for educators. In the summer of 2018, a Power Off and Play grant from HKCC Rexdale brought 400 local youth to the Arboretum free of charge, covering transportation, a nature education program, and a healthy snack of fresh fruit for every child.

In January 2017, Humber College's Centre of Innovation in Health and Wellness launched the Healthy Kids Change-Maker Challenge (HKCMC) as a platform to bring Humber College students, faculty, and staff together with community and industry partners to develop innovative ideas in support of Ontario's Healthy Kids Strategy. That March, the Centre for Urban Ecology (CUE) was the site of the HKCMC Healthy Kids Town Hall.

In February 2018, Humber College brought the non-profit, government, and business sectors together with students and faculty at the CUE for Healthy Living, Healthy Growing in Rexdale, a dialogue regarding the intersections between food security and healthy child and youth development. You can explore the ideas and discussions from that day for yourself in the illustration below, which was created throughout the event by an artist working on whiteboard:

Illustrations and text on a white board outline thoughts around food and community