Durham College, Region launch Barrett Centre urban farm in Ajax

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Published October 12, 2022 at 12:56 pm

An urban farm with its roots in Durham College’s Whitby campus has found a new – albeit temporary – home in Ajax.

The school, in partnership with Invest Durham (the Region’s Economic Development and tourism division) broke ground on the new location for the Barrett Centre of Innovation in Sustainable Urban Agriculture October 6 at the corner of Harwood Avenue and Rossland Road in north Ajax.

The Barrett Centre was launched at Durham College’s Skills Centre in September 2021, thanks to the support of The Barrett Family Foundation, with a vision to become an internationally recognized hub of excellence in urban agricultural practices, research, education and training. This included a working urban farm and an education and research program to turn undeveloped land in Durham into an active farm that supports the community.

The Regional property is being provided on an interim basis to create and operate the urban farm, which will introduce new educational programs and training; provide support and coaching about urban agriculture initiatives for traditionally underserved and marginalized communities; and build a team of highly respected experts to establish the Region as an internationally recognized centre of innovation in sustainable urban agriculture.

“Durham College is a recognized leader in urban agriculture education,” said Foundation spokesperson Bob Barrett. “The vision to modernize and replicate their current model of urban farming into a regional, national and global entity is very impressive and innovative. Our investment in the college and creation of The Barrett Centre will allow them to scale their operations into a global hub for urban agriculture knowledge and best practices.”

Bob and Francine Barrett were on hand for the ground-breaking ceremony with Durham Chair John Henry, Durham College President Don Lovisa and other representatives from the Town of Ajax, Invest Durham and Durham College, including Kelly O’Brien, the Associate Dean of the Faculty of Hospitality and Horticulture Science.

“Durham College is excited to establish this new partnership made possible by the support of the Barrett Family Foundation and the Region of Durham,” O’Brien said. “As we establish the Barrett Centre of Innovation in Sustainable Agriculture, together we will lead the way to a more resilient, inclusive, collaborative and diverse food system for Durham Region, Ontario and beyond.”

The new Barrett Centre location is being provided by the Regional Municipality of Durham for the Barrett Centre’s urban farming project until the site is required for infrastructure expansion.

“Durham Region is a destination of choice for investment in urban, indoor and vertical farming. Our innovation community is using forward-thinking to adopt sustainable practises that will help combat critical issues like climate change, food access and food insecurity,” said Henry at the ceremony. “Durham College is a recognized leader in urban agriculture education and we are thrilled to unveil the development site for this incredible centre of innovation—one that will have profound positive impact on communities, locally, nationally and globally for generations to come.”

The Region is committed to supporting and growing the agri-food sector. In 2019, the Durham Region Local Food Business Retention and Expansion Project surveyed more than 60 local food businesses to create a system-wide approach for accessing local food, supporting local agri-businesses and enhancing food literacy.

Two years later the Agriculture Workforce Project was developed to inform Durham Region residents of careers in agriculture and agri-food production, their essential role in the region and to encourage residents to enter careers in the agriculture industry.

The Barrett Family Foundation’s philanthropic gift-giving has supported a broad range of causes while their resources are focused on supporting people and their workplace success. They do this by partnering with organizations that provide opportunities for individuals to acquire knowledge for effectiveness in their chosen careers, to innovate new strategies that will make the planet safer and more productive and to better serve people living on the margins so they can face their futures with “confidence and self-respect.”

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