Walking Potatoes & Wilder-beasts: An Examination of the Socio-Ecological Relationship between People & Animals in Urban Agriculture, Toronto, ON
‘Walking Potatoes & Wilder-beasts’ is a project focused on the intersections of urban food production. The intersection of urban agriculture with urban life, and that of urban farmers, community gardeners and wildlife. Most urban landscapes are a patchwork of built environments, ranging from high rises to river valleys, from highways to wildlife corridors. As these cityscapes continue to expand, they will attract more people and animals, which will in turn facilitate more interactions, positive and negative. Recent research has called for an increased focus in several areas, human-wildlife shared-use infrastructure, urban agriculture as hotspots of biodiversity and small mammal conservation, (Clucas et al., 2018; Guitart et al., 2012; Lin et al., 2015; Niesner et al., 2021; Rega-Brodsky et al., 2022).
Stakeholders, those growing and enjoying the products of urban agriculture, have been shown to experience improvements to their food, health, community structure, even real estate values with a community garden or urban farm nearby, (Draper & Freedman, 2010; Malberg Dyg et al., 2020). These benefits are particularly acute for more vulnerable populations, by decreasing the size or even eliminating food deserts, as some residents may supplement their bought groceries with those grown in the garden, increasing the nutritional value of meals, while decreasing the overall cost of food, (Beavers et al., 2020).
This project explores the positive and negative interactions and conflicts that arise between the people and wildlife that work, visit, and live in urban farms and community gardens. This involved an anonymous survey of people that work and grow in the research sites, and the use of trail cameras to capture the animals that visited the sites. The study examined two urban agricultural sites from August to November 2022, in Toronto, ON. One urban farm and one community garden, both with proximity to urban wildlife habitat. The trail cameras at both sites captured numerous species, as well as several individuals who repeated their visits to the site(s). Species ranged from deer and coyotes to field mice and birds. Generally, smaller species were identified as resident on site, with several den sites found at each site. The research displayed the complicated, nuanced relationship that growers had with the various species living in and benefitting from these miniature agricultural landscapes. Conflicts at both sites generally arose from the eating and spoiling of crops by wildlife.
By researching the intersection of urban agriculture, both urban farms and community gardens, with urban wildlife, this project opens an avenue of investigation into the benefits these spaces
provide to urban residents. By facilitating interactions with wildlife, urban agriculture spaces could foster positive emotions toward urban wildlife, and wildlife in general. Many urban species are considered more pest than pleasant, this project seeks to understand if the same is true when the context changes from the street/home/alleyway to a more natural landscape.