We spoke with Chris Wong, co-founder and GM of Young Urban Farmers. Chris can help you grow your own fresh, organic food. We found out the easiest veggies for beginners to grow, when you need to get started, and why green peppers are always the cheapest.
Why do you grow your own food?
Food is an integral part of my life (of all of our lives) and something we often take for granted. Growing your own food is a great way to connect with where your food comes from, how it is grown, spend some time with nature, and of course, enjoy fresh, nutritious, and delicious produce!
You went to school for business. How did you get into urban farming?
After graduating with a business degree, I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I was looking for something that was aligned with my interests and values, was in an emerging industry, and had the opportunity for success. It was over a meal with some former classmates that we started talking about urban farming. One thing led to another and Young Urban Farmers was created. I love that I’m able to make a positive difference in teaching people to grow and enjoy fresh herbs, green, veg, and fruit right from their own garden.
How are you helping people achieve “Fresh food from your backyard, without the work”?
Young Urban Farmers has helped many people with a wide range of gardening services. For most people, that means setting up an edible garden. This includes the materials, our custom soil mix, and heirloom seeds and transplants setup in the best spot on your property.
For others, we arrange more comprehensive services including ongoing weekly maintenance of the garden, or personalized coaching sessions. We can also arrange monthly or ad-hoc checkups / garden maintenance if people have specific questions or if they’re going on vacation and need a helping hand.
What are some of the gardening challenges that you help your clients with?
Mostly natural pest control (especially last year due to more bugs surviving the mild winter), weed identification, incorporating native and ornamental plants into an edible landscape, as well as setting up children’s gardens.
Which vegetables are the best for beginners to plant?
For beginners, I like to suggest drought tolerant plants like garlic chives, Jerusalem artichoke, and thyme. Greens like kale and Swiss chard are also excellent for beginners due to their abundant growth and ability to stand up beautifully to the hot summer conditions of Toronto. (Get your starter kit here!).
What is the easiest thing to grow?
My recommendations for the easiest things to grow include cherry tomatoes, peppermint, bush beans, and sage. With regular water and a sunny environment, many people find they have more than enough for their family AND their friends.
What fruit can we grow in Toronto?
A wide variety of fruit can be grown successfully in Toronto. My favourites include strawberries, raspberries, and cherries, however apples, pears, plums, blackberries, blueberries, pawpaws, hardy kiwi and more can thrive in Toronto gardens.
What’s your favourite early spring green?
My favourite spring greens are arugula and spinach. These plants like the cooler conditions of both spring and fall and can easily be grown into the early winter of December and started as early as March in cold frames.
What’s your favourite variety of tomato?
There are so many great varieties it’s hard to choose just one! In terms of small tomatoes, one of my favourites is the black cherry tomato, which just keeps on producing tomatoes all season long.
For medium sized tomatoes, the roma variety is excellent for sauce, soups, and stews. Garden peach is quickly becoming a favourite medium sized tomato due to its fuzzy skin, yellow/orange colour and delicious tomato taste.
For large tomatoes, one of my favourites is green zebra, which ripens to a green colour, is very juicy and falvourful, and excellent in sandwiches.
Favourite colour of pepper?
As long as it’s fully ripened, I love all colours of peppers. When peppers first start to grow, they start off immature and in their green state. We recommend all pepper growers to let their peppers ripen from green to red (or purple, or whatever their fully ripe state is) for the best taste and flavour. That’s also why green peppers cost less at the store, since they can be picked earlier and don’t need to ripen as long as red or other coloured peppers.
Do you believe that we should all grow our own food?
Definitely. I believe everyone should grow their own food, even if it is just a pot of herbs on a deck or growing sprouts indoors – both of which are very easy and require minimal work. We believe gardening should be fun and simple, and there’s nothing like the satisfaction of knowing some or all of your dinner came from your own yard.
How does an EarthBox make gardening even easier for people?
The EarthBox is one of my favourite container gardens. Developed by both farmers and scientists, it is one of the most foolproof ways to get gardening with a built in water reservoir, wheels for easy mobility, mulch cover to keep to weeds down, and ability to grow almost every kind of plant. All you need to do is water and harvest!
For those interested in building a new (or improving upon an existing) garden in their yard, when and how should they begin?
The most common advice I give is to start small and start simple. Start with some of the easy and beginner varieties I’ve listed above. For containers, I recommend a self-watering container and a soil mix rich in organic matter. That will ensure new or improved gardens have the best chance of successful and make for a fun and enjoyable experience. Our outdoor gardening starts in April or whenever the ground starts to thaw. Hot crops like tomatoes and peppers get planted in May.