Treemobile bears fruit in the Beach

From left, Virginie Gysel, Dawn Lyons, and Sylvia Kraus sort fruit-bearing shrubs and trees at Treemobile Toronto's first-ever planting day at St. Saviour's Anglican Church on April 26. The volunteer group delivers low-cost, food-bearing plants to residents in an effort to grow organic food with a lower carboon footprint. For more information, visit PHOTO: Andrew Hudson
From left, Virginie Gysel, Sylvia Kraus, and Dawn Lyons sort fruit-bearing shrubs and trees at Treemobile Toronto’s first-ever planting day at St. Saviour’s Anglican Church on April 26. The volunteer group delivers low-cost, food-bearing plants to residents in an effort to grow organic food with a lower carboon footprint. For more information, visit
PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

He didn’t plant paw paws or goji berries, but Johnny Appleseed would certainly tip his hat to Treemobile, a volunteer group that delivers low-cost fruit trees across Toronto.

Working last Saturday outside St. Saviour’s, an Anglican church in the Upper Beach, Treemobile volunteers sorted 40 fruit trees and 355 fruit- or nut-bearing shrubs and vines that Toronto buyers had ordered online.

Most of the trees and some rarer shrubs cost about $40, while asparagus crowns were five for a dollar. Delivery fees range from $1 to $10, depending whether buyers want their order dropped off or planted for them.

“In Toronto, lots of people don’t own a shovel,” said Treemobile founder Virginie Gysel, laughing.

Toronto is built on some of Ontario’s best farmland, said Gysel. Especially when climate change is such a concern, she said the idea is to grow your apples, pears, and plums right here, where they won’t clock any air miles.

Homegrown fruit often tastes better, too, she added.

“What orchardists want is stuff that’s hard as a rock, that all ripens at the same time, and they’re not really too concerned with taste,” she said.

“What we want is delicious fruit with nice texture and scent, and it doesn’t have to ripen all at once.”

A landscape architecture graduate who grew up on a tree farm, Gysel started Treemobile four years ago when she was a student at the University of Guelph.

At the time, she was writing a thesis about all the farmland Canada is losing to its growing cities – an area the size of about three PEIs, according to a Statistics Canada report that looked at urban growth from 1971 to 2001.

Gysel joined protests calling for a more sustainable approach, but she said she soon felt like taking more concrete action.

“You just get tired of being against things,” she said, smiling.

In its first two years, Treemobile sold 150 and then 250 plants. That number shot up to 1,000 in year three, when they launched an online store.

Gysel said she wanted to start small when Treemobile branched into Toronto this spring.

For one thing, she is still coordinating the Guelph chapter from her Beach-area home, and she has a big wedding coming up – her own.

Still, Gysel found time and a supportive minister at St. Saviour’s church to plant something entirely new.

Along with delivering this year’s orders, which are now sold out, the Treemobile volunteers started turning sod last weekend for what will one day be a kind of public orchard on either side of St. Saviour’s along Swanwick and Kimberley Avenues. Besides apple, pear, and other fruit trees planted two by two, Gysel planned a border bush of blue Haskap berries, even a row of persimmons.

“This is a perfect spot,” she said, pointing out to the rising ground along the church’s south side. “It’s not at the bottom of a hill, you’re getting heat reflected from the church, and sun most of the days.”

“In a few years, when they start to do things, people will sit here under the apple trees,” she said. “It will be quite novel.”

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This is a great article. I find the pace of change in urban agriculture awe-inspiring. When I started promoting the general idea of growing food in cities 20 years ago, people laughed in my face. Urban agriculture was treated as one of those phrases like conventional wisdom and military intelligence — a contradiction in terms.

Gardening was seen as a hobby, mainly for stereotypical old biddies who loved flowers and immigrants who hadn’t adjusted to North American standards of passive leisure.

Things started to move with community gardens and restoring of brownfields to create space for bigger-than-backyard spaces.

But in the last few years, a raft of trends are underway. People are growing on green roofs, a sure sign things are looking up. They’re growing up walls, ivy league style. The attention turned to trees, which ups the ante considerably since trees serve several ecological purposes as well — providing habitat for wildlife, cooling an area during summer and protecting people and buildings from harsh winds in winter. And now it’s even smart to grow on behalf of other species, as citie are seen as safe harbours for key pollinators, such as bees and butterflies.

And now indoor agriculture is starting to take off, as a way to conserve water, as in Nevada or to protect plants from the cold.

As I argue in Food for City Building, the most instructive point is the way food levers other possibilities. I believe we are entering a period when urban ag will become integrated with green infrastructure and social and mental health infrastructure. It’s an empowering package of benefits now offer, and we’ve barely got started.
Wayne Roberts,
Wineva Ave

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