Zora Ignjatovic, 55, gave me a tour of what she lovingly refers to as her baby: the green roof atop the Carrot Common, a retail and health services centre on Danforth Avenue.
“I mean, look at this, this is all one!” she said, picking up the foot-long leaf of a bright green tomato plant.
Ignjatovic, the centre’s chief botanist, put many months into the roof’s vegetable garden, carefully selecting soil ingredients and using a boxed hydroponic system for watering.
“We are giving the example that it’s possible. This is just the third week now that we planted really shy little seedlings, and they exploded.”
She floated around the garden, admiring the symmetry and health of various leaves.
“It can’t get any more perfect.”
Carrot Common isn’t alone — over 90,000 square meters of Toronto rooftops are being developed into green roofs through the city’s Eco-Roof Incentive Program which began in 2009.
Since January 2010, every new building with a gross floor area of 2,000 square meters must make a portion of its roof green.
According to a report by Ryerson University, this will help lower the city’s overall temperature as an urban heat island. The soil and drainage layers of a green roof release rain water back into the air as water vapour.
But with the funding program ending in 2012, the fate of Toronto’s green roof boom is unknown.
Program head Lawson Oates said the funding was intended as a limited program and that no request for continuation is currently planned.
“With the fiscal constraints that the city is under right now we don’t feel that we’re in the position to continue the program at this time,” Oates said. “The goal has been to help the industry get up and running . . . the program will be seen as a success in terms of meeting its goals.”
City Council approved the program in 2008 after several years of research into the environmental benefits of green roofs. Since then, the city has approved over 50 rooftop projects for funding.
Doug Holyday, a city councillor and critic of the city’s spending on green roofs, said Toronto’s debt of $774 million leaves no room to continue program funding.
Kim Curry, Carrot Common’s green roof project leader, said she’s sad to see the grant program ending.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do it, if we didn’t have [the program]. It was definitely essential.” Curry said. “This would otherwise be a big piece of black tar.”
Currently, the roof garden at Carrot Commons grows a multitude of herbs and vegetables, and several experimental plots planted by researchers from the University of Toronto and the University of Guelph.
“The plan for this garden is to be a learning hub for the community and peer organizations,” Curry said. “We’ll have chefs here and people doing raw food demonstrations. It’s very open concept.”
Keith Agoada, an urban agriculture entrepreneur, said green roofs also have the potential to benefit businesses as well.
He said restaurants in particular can use the roofs to cut supply costs and attract more business at the same time.
“Having the ability to grow food where you’re selling it is very visible, and can really connect with people,” he said, adding city-dwellers have an innate desire to be close to what they eat.
“There’s something to be said for the sight of fruit trees around us, and the excitement that it raises in us,” Agoada said. “No one ever had to learn to be excited about it, its part of our natural human history.”
But Ignjatovic from Carrot Common best exemplifies the optimism behind the green roof movement.
“Every time I see a flat building,” she said, “I think ‘Oh! There is a possibility!’ ”