The Building Roots Urban Farm, June 3

On the radio I hear people feeling distraught that distancing has taken their summer away – no cottage, no music or food festivals, no bar patios; how will they even know it’s summer?

I’m not lost in time at all. Snowdrops, daffodils, bright forsythia, flamboyant magnolia, and brilliant tulips are my countdown to getting seed in the ground & doing my part to help sun & soil make food.

Now that the polar vortex is behind us and the City has decided the rules for teamwork gardening, I’ve been preparing beds at the Building Roots volunteer-powered urban farm.

We grow vegetables for the Building Roots market at Moss Park – a food desert (which means you can’t find fresh food for many blocks). Last year we delivered radish and lettuce and spinach, peas and beans, tomatoes and zucchini and garlic, and – the market serves a diverse culinary base – callaloo and Ethiopian kale. This year we’re adding other nutritious greens including fenugreek (mehti) and tatsoi.

The urban farm is in a lovely spot at Ashbridge Estate, an Ontario Heritage Trust site in east Toronto. Last year we doubled the growing space, but it’s not a huge area so I was able to start the beds working alone.

(There are new rules this year – signing in and out, sanitizing tools – but the distancing feels normal: we’re always only a couple of people at a time, much more than 6’ apart, comfortably companionable.)

Dig, dig, dig … the best way to get a summer body back! If you’re missing your gym, come lend a hand – farm work uses every muscle – in the beautiful outdoors with sunshine, trees, and birdsong : )

My first session didn’t involve any digging, though. I just walked around seeing how the beds had come through the winter, and noticing –

  • Garlic – planted in October – poking up
  • Self-seeded Ethiopian kale, well along in our cold frame
  • Overwintered Noir de Pardailhan turnips going to seed for us

These are a tether anchored in last fall, reaching through the dead of winter to this moment in spring. They tell me where we are in the sun’s circle, in the year’s cycle, and I know what to do next.

This sense of the season is not something I grew up with; it came from the doing. All kinds of production have their own lore built in; what is yours instilling in you?


Well-being is about mind, body, and spirit – or some say mind, body, and emotions. This post is about spirit, with three points.

1.     Attitude is everything

Notes from people who’ve been there themselves –

There are actual immunological reasons to cultivate happiness, joy, awe, wonder (short and sensible article). Try a “happiness library” or a shared Spotify account of music that celebrates joy, courage, achievement. (I’d include the blues song “Strawberry Jam”; see if you can find it.)

A few people who are quite comfortable living alone have written about this being different: they’re feeling frighteningly invisible. Touch (see below) helps with that; just as important is to manifest your existence to others. We need to be seen, at least metaphorically. Helping is a way to have an effect in the world, and thanks to the ‘net there are ways to do that even now. It also puts some beacons in the murky future to steer by, and gives you accomplishments as milestones. An hour a week on a help line? It does matter.

Some ways to contain waves of worry here. And don’t be too stubborn to reach out when you want to.

2.     Own your time

Often one wished for more free time, but what we have now is uncomfortable – “A sustained, long-run lockdown means that a vast stretch of undifferentiated time is unfurling ahead of us, stripped bare of the usual divisions and markers.”

We need milestones: “We want to feel time is precious; we don’t want to write it off. We don’t want to lose a summer that we’ll never get back. We don’t want to do time; we don’t want to be inside. We want to live.” [source, a thoughtful article]

So live! Own your life, even now: create your own milestones –

  • Make the effort to make memories – create a rich subjective time. “[D]istinct events and experiences … stretch out the temporal landscape.” [source]
  • Put a fixed point in your day – a sit-down lunch, blues at 8pm, 5 minutes screaming into a pillow, whatever: something you want and decide on and will look forward to.
  • Try one of the things you’ve never had time for. Time is the one renewable resource we all have; don’t let it slip through your fingers. This too is life: what will you do with it? Whether it’s building a puppet theatre or playing recorder or saying hello in a dozen languages or making papier mache animals, you can do it – and when you have, you’ll feel good and want to do another.

3.     The importance of touch

Touch is really important to well-being. For those of us living alone, and for all of us who now aren’t touching many things out in the world, this is a significant loss even if we’re not directly aware of its effects.

  • The challenges of isolating (G&M article)
  • Short overview of the importance of touch. Neuroscientist David Lindon writes that our skin is a social organ that cultivates cooperation, improves health and enhances development.
  • From another article: “Touch makes your brain grow…. Touch is how we become part of this human community.” Touch “let me know that I existed, that I was here.” [source]

What to do with that knowledge? Well, it’s a wonderful fact that our brains don’t distinguish clearly between experience and memory.

  • Take a few minutes to remember – the feeling of being hand-in-hand with another person, the hugs you’ve had, running your fingers along rough bark or soft pine needles, the wind on your arms and the sun on your face, petting a dog’s head or wrestling a snowsuit onto a squirming child, cuddling and dancing, turning a key in a lock or leaning against a heavy door, the weight of a teacup or the warmth of a sweater.
  • Pull up your touch memories every day – you have them, and they will help in the now.

You can add new touch experiences, even now.

  • Massage your feet, noticing how it feels in your foot and in your hands. Rest your cheek against a windowpane and experience its texture. Close your eyes and feel a sheet of paper and a piece of wood: can you tell the difference? What is the difference? What are the fabric textures in your closet?
  • If you can get outdoors, try short barefoot walks. (In the city, choose your place and watch for glass!) You too may discover “the small joy of finding a dandelion stalk caught between the toes … touching rocks and roots, just feels good.”

Mental imagery works with photographs too.

  • In this gallery of outstanding wildlife shots, imagine stroking the fur of the arctic fox, touching the wrinkled orangutan cheek, feeling the hard scales of the pangolin, shaking hands with the mountain gorilla, being explored by the elephant’s trunk.

And for off-the-wall inspiration, here’s an inventive wood-worker’s creation, Proud Parent. The video is 16min and it’s a giggle – I think you won’t count it as lost time!

Last word

A quote I’m finding very helpful –

“Inspiration and small pleasures can hide in plain sight, patiently waiting for a keen co-conspirator to spring them loose.” – Jez Burrows, Dictionary Stories


Now that so much performance art is online, it’s almost overwhelming.

What’s working for me is to listen to radio or music while I’m doing dishes or other chores; a walk after dinner and then relax into culture / entertainment. I choose the performance or venue in the morning – all day I have a fine evening to look forward to!

Or – just click on something, check it out – the world is out there, and bursting with variety.


  • Children’s bedtime stories read by Dolly Parton; her Imagination Library has delivered more than 130m free books to children. Here’s The little engine that could on YouTube, which to my surprise has tremendous present relevance (essential work, role of the powerful, small-scale kindness, persistence, …); there are lots more stories.
  • Poetry Jukebox – requests read by actor Samuel West and friends. Completely accessible; try #2, The Lion and Albert (3min), or #6, On the Ning Nang Nong (1min), both very silly. There are also wry, loving, angry, and courageous  selections. Try #21, Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things (1½ min).
  • The Ancient Mariner Big Read  and article on this 3-year project
  • Spoken word for Earth Day (3min, top-quality performance)


  • CBC’s Laugh Out Loud not an essential service?!! Dozens of past episodes available. Laughter is good for spirit – and boosts health too.


  • ArtUK exhibits 250,000 artworks from 3,290 UK venues and 4,500 artists. In May an innovative new feature will launch – Curations – create your own virtual exhibition.
  • All the arts – a new Canadian site, Arts At Home, brings together sites for art, dance, music, theatre, and more. Find it here – Harbourfront’s Thursday Crafternoons,


  • Bella Dance online – for children and adults – from Yellowknife, NWT, Includes charming activities and resources for kids under 7yo. article
  • Article listing more dance opportunities with top ballet performers
  • Cinderella and other performances by the Australian Ballet
  • Swan (5min) – Royal Birmingham Ballet



  • UK’s National Theatre – a new play every Thursday on YouTube, free for a week.
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber is releasing musicals on YouTube each week, Fridays at 7pm BST, for 48 hours. (Also on that channel, excerpts from other Weber operas.)
  • Link list of more theatre and ballet – too many to detail! Shakespeare’s Globe, Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, Deafinitely Theatre (BSL and spoken English), the Broken Wings ballet, puppet performances of I have seen my hat, This is not my hat and We found a hat.
  • Another link list of theatre, with selections for all ages. Anansi the Spider, I wish I was a mountain, A Tiger’s Tale (! until May 24) – also Mother Courage (15-22 May), A Doll’s House, and much much more.

Inner world

  • Mondays at 7pm, Toronto’s Annie Lockerbie Newton’s 31min meditation streaming on Facebook and Instagram.
  • TED talks – short talks on new ideas and achievements. Most are high quality.
  • has a very gentle introduction to coding as a technique for breaking big tasks down into smaller ones (a useful skill : ) and making a computer do what you tell it to (highly absorbing). The “classes” are set up as puzzles – try Dance Party. There’s also a 1pm ET “Code Break” session on Wednesdays.
  • Unusual – DigVentures is waiving the fee for the June 1 course How to do archaeology. A 6-week certificate course approved by the UK’s Chartered Institute for Archaeologists. Discover the parts of a dig, the clues, the roles.

“Inspired by the DigVentures course, one woman has dug a trench a metre-deep in her back garden, in which she has found nothing more precious than a fork and a marble. ‘But a couple of days ago when sitting in my trench with my brush and my palette knife, I suddenly realised that I actually felt happy and unstressed – both feelings somewhat alien to me currently.’” [article]

Escape to the wider world

  • YouTube walking videos – it’s a thing.
  • Visit Amsterdam – article linking to excellent online resources, from the Rijksmuseum which has been digitizing for years, to photographers to music to street art.
    • Challenge: curate your own guide to another city.
  • Remote Tourism – live experience with a guide (article). Realtime is engaging : )

Participants decide which way to turn, what to look at. On Wednesday when I watched, we were in the oldest village in the Faroe Islands. There was a nasty North Atlantic storm blowing in, so the guide turned back from the hills into the village where there was more shelter. Had to avoid the geese. Who knows where next!

  • Nest-flix and other delights – article linking to the Cornell Lab birdcams, Edinburgh Zoo, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and more. “They offer connection and continuity – the transporting sensation of watching a creature indifferent to human endeavour going about its life.”
  • HotDocs at home through CBC TV. Toronto’s film festivals are known worldwide – here’s a front-row seat to documentaries about current issues – with no standing in line.
  • 10 of the world’s best museum and gallery tours (suggestion: start with the Natural History Museum, London – its online presence is excellent)
  • Go local – The Radio Garden app and article suggesting a few stations.

For light relief right now, in the moment –

Cherry Date Bars – #NoFoodWaste

Photo taken by Mary McCusker, Building Roots team member and author of this article.

At the Moss Park Market, we have been receiving donations of food items from many different people and organizations. Amidst our massive influx of food deliveries as part of our COVID-19 relief efforts, we sometimes receive one-off items that are hard to decide what to do with. We want to make sure that everyone’s food bags are similar and that all the food is distributed as evenly as possible.

A couple of weeks ago we ended up with a single bag of chopped dates and two cans of cherry pie filling from Second Harvest that we were unsure what to do with. I took them home because I hate to see food wasted and came up with this recipe using the cherry pie filling, chopped dates and bananas from the market.

#NoFoodWaste Cherry Date Bars


1 ½ cup flour

1 ½ cup oats

¼ cup salted butter

¼ cup sugar

3 bananas

1 ½ cup chopped dates

¼ cup flaked coconut

¼ cup chia seeds

¼ cup hemp seeds

1 cup chopped almonds

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Splash of milk as needed

1 can of cherry pie filling


  • Heat Oven to 350 °F
  • Combine flour oats and sugar in one bowl
  • Combine almonds, coconut, hemp and chia seeds in a separate bowl
  • In a third bowl mash the bananas and combine with the melted butter (not too hot), vanilla extract and milk as needed until it is a fairly liquid consistency
  • Combine the flour and the banana bowls together to create the crumb mixture
  • Fold in the dates, almonds and seeds (the mixture will be very sticky at this point)
  • Press half of the mixture into the bottom of a parchment paper lined baking pan. *NOTE: If using wax paper (or no paper) make sure that you oil the paper or pan first with butter
  • Pour cherry pie filling on top and spread evenly
  • Use the other half of the mixture and crumble small circles evenly across the surface
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes until the bottom is browned
  • Let cool and cut into squares
  • ENJOY!!

Net Picks (Part 2)

7:30pm every evening – go out on the street to cheer for our healthcare workers. If you have a musical instrument, bring it! On my corner there`s bagpipes and an accordion : )

Keeping It Together (Part 2)

Advice from astronaut Scott Kelly and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.

Vincent Lavoie, acrobat with Canada’s Cirque du Soleil, says high-level performers have a particular “strength in our wheelhouse – to look at the situation and head straight to something that’s productive, rather than dwelling on our misfortune.” Nice to be like that!

OK. Well-being is about mind, body, and spirit – or some say mind, body, and emotions. This post is about body.

Eat well

Bodies have amazing layers of defences against getting sick. This is a time to treat those systems well – give eating for health a little more attention than usual.

The Globe and Mail’s nutrition writer, Leslie Beck, posted an article about immune-supportive nutrients, with good explanations. The article organizes these foods by nutrient, but if you’re on a tiny budget (as I am), just lean more often towards the foods she mentions –

  • almonds, dried apricots, asparagus, avocado
  • beef, black beans, Brazil nuts, fortified breakfast cereals, broccoli, brown rice, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash
  • cabbage, cantaloupe, carrots, cashews, cauliflower, cheese, chicken, chickpeas, citrus fruit, cottage cheese, crab
  • eggs
  • halibut, hazelnuts, herring
  • kale, kidney beans, kiwifruit
  • lentils, liver
  • mango, milk
  • fortified orange juice, oysters
  • green peas, peanut butter, peanuts, pork, pumpkin seeds, bell peppers
  • safflower oil, salmon, sardines, shrimp, spinach, strawberries, sunflower oil, sunflower seeds, sweet potato, Swiss chard, tomato juice, tuna, turkey
  • wheat germ, wheat germ oil
  • yogurt


Even a little mild-to-moderate exercise makes you feel better & more competent, boosts your immune system, and lifts your mood a bit for hours after. Do not overdo it – just take 10-15 minutes – 2-3 times a day is great, especially for cooped-up children and under-25s who have energy they need to burn.

Note – If you have any physical constraints, check with your doctor for what’s right for you to do. These are only useful links; this is not medical advice!

  • Canada’s famous 5BX (men) and XBX (women) – basic exercises to achieve a reasonably high level of fitness. For any age and level. No equipment. 11-12min/day, starting easy(ish). Designed for the RCAF in the 1950s, after 1/3 of pilots were rated unfit. Used today by the British royal family including William and Kate.
  • DareBEE – remarkable resource site by a small group of volunteers and fitness professionals –  fitness should be “accessible for everyone, not just people who can pay for it.” There’s something for everyone here.

I usually prefer exercise that accomplishes something (growing vegetables, walking) but this site is becoming a constant companion.

Search out spring

(On current rules, “You can go for a walk if you have not been diagnosed with COVID-19, if you don’t have a recent history of travel outside the country, and if you don’t have symptoms that could be COVID-19.” Toronto park infrastructure is closed, but you can still walk. Go alone or with a housemate, do not meet up with others, and stay 6’ away from other walkers.)

Starting in March there is a joyous and totally easy thing to do – just walk around for a few blocks searching out spring.

It doesn’t feel like spring yet – but the plants know more than we do! Snowdrops are in bloom, yellow and blue crocuses are open, tulip leaves are poking up. The first buds are swelling on rose bushes, and willows are turning yellow.

If you have a camera, take photos and share. People who can’t go out need to see this too.

Especially when your mind is fast-cycling and getting you worked up, a simple walk can put you back in control.

“Time spent in nature is linked to lower stress, restored attention, a balanced nervous system, increased levels of cancer-fighting “natural killer cells”, the activation of neural pathways associated with calm, and decreased levels of anxiety and depression. Phytoncides (compounds emitted from trees and plants), relaxation, stress reduction and awe are known to enhance immune function.”

Spring symbolizes endurance and renewal – good thoughts at this vexing time. Let Toronto’s marvellous natural infrastructure help you through. It’s there, waiting for you to see it.

Take a virtual walk

Even if you can’t go out, you can still get nature’s support.

A study in “horticultural therapy” showed that hospital patients who can see trees and gardens out the window recover faster, and report less anxiety and pain, than patients whose window looks onto a parking lot.

Experiencing nature reduces fear and pain – what can you do with that? Well –

Imagination is a human super-power, and you have it.

Think of a setting you like – mountain, lake, forest, beach? – or an animal, butterfly, flower, tree. Go looking for it on the net, or in your mind`s eye. Focus on a scene – Look closely, get immersed, imagine it with all your senses. Water lapping on the shore, pine scent on the warm breeze… Go “away” for 5 minutes, or 20.

You can enhance the experience with birdsong (I’ve been playing these every day. They make things .. just a bit better) –

Other ways to travel without leaving home.

Make a home retreat

Turn one small corner of a room into a mini-environment. Hang a flowered curtain or forest poster in the corner, put a comfortable chair or cushions facing it; add a little stack of resources – hobby or craft materials, books or magazines – and a water bottle so you don’t have to get up; maybe an incense burner, a bunch of flowers. Set birdsong or gentle music playing and settle in … Aaaah, that’s better!

If you have children at home, it will help them too.

With a large screen, you can also transform this corner into a personal travel guide – tour world-famous sites, museums and galleries, the Leslie Street Spit.

It’s really nice to have a place that means relaxing. Even in ordinary times a dedicated retreat like this is a luxury. And it’s your home, so how you arrange your furniture is totally up to you.

Growing Meals Together: Help Us Grow for the Moss Park Market

Giving food and sharing meals is the most basic and affirming thing people do; it’s a sign of welcome and hospitality around the world, and opens the way to deeper relations.

What you may not know is that much of the produce at the Moss Park Market is donated by farmers, and some is grown by our own tiny volunteer-powered urban farm in the east end.

In this difficult spring of 2020 we can’t meet over a meal, and that’s a sore loss of fellowship. So we’re inviting you to share a meal in a different way – by growing a little for the market.

We’re looking for 20 people to grow a small plot each, 1m by 2m (3’x6’). It might be beets or beans, cucumbers or carrots or cilantro, tomatoes or hot peppers … you get the idea : )

If you haven’t grown vegetables before, this is your chance to notch up a new skill with support from our gardener. It’s very, very satisfying to see a tiny seed develop into … food for a person to eat.

Building Roots can supply seed, help with suggestions, and post photos of your developing plots. It would be ideal if you can bring the harvest to the market, but we do have capacity to do some of the harvesting too.

If you have grown vegetables before, we’d love you to take on some of the trickier veg – for example, carrots that need a deep soil and constant moisture while they germinate.

To be part of this Growing Meals Together program, please contact us. And if you have friends and neighbours who are gardeners or would like to give this a try, pass the message on to them!

Net Picks (Part 1)

Short giggle gems:

Two absorbing resources:

  • For children – Scouts’ 100 games and activities for “The great indoors.”
  • Learn to tie knots and what each is good for. Why not? Two good sites here and here.

Two audio treats:

  • Famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma is posting Songs of Comfort – here’s the first (short)
  • YouTube birdsong with forest view (long; excellent improvement for indoor living)

And two collective actions:

  • Choir choir choir – Canada’s duo famous for big-group sing-alongs – did a virtual sing-along; thousands joined in. (They plan to do more.)
  • At 7:30 pm every night, take 5min to make a loud happy noise outside in thanks to our healthcare workers. Clap, sing, whatever. On my street a couple of nights ago we had a bagpipe, singers, garbage-bin drummers … all 6’ apart and that works just fine : )

Building Roots In The Time Of COVID-19

With COVID-19, we are working hard to provide food for the most vulnerable in our community right now, and are offering new at-home resources for children, families, and seniors in need.

Building Roots is committed to maintaining the health and safety of our volunteers, workers, and the people we serve. Our Moss Park Market remains open Saturdays at 260 Queen Street East from 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. We are no longer letting anyone into the shipping container, but are providing our bags of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as soup from the door. When a line forms, distancing of two meters is in place.

Right now we are also shifting our focus to more at-home resources to provide relief and support to those who need it most. We are delivering food baskets with fresh, nutritious food to seniors, community members living with emotional or mobility barriers, as well as those in self-isolation that have trouble accessing food. These deliveries started on Saturday, March 21. We’ve heard from our deliveries that residents are very thankful for the food right now and are helping neighbours in their building as well. 

We are also providing educational resource and activity kits for families with kids home from school. Books and other resources can be picked up in addition to groceries from the Moss Park Market during regular Saturday hours (11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.), following the same strict social distancing policies.

If you’d like to help, please consider making a donation. 100 percent of your contribution will go towards the cost of our emergency food provisions. You can donate $5.00 for one basket, or any increment of $5.00. For example, $50 provides ten baskets of food. All donations will receive a tax receipt.

If you live in Moss Park and are in need of a food delivery, please send an email to

Thank you for checking in and building deeper roots in our community when it’s needed the most. For more frequent updates, join us on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram.

The City of Toronto also has a COVID-19 webpage with the latest public health information.

Lisa Kates and Darcy Higgins,
Founding Partners, Building Roots

Keeping It Together

Fun tidbits:

If you’re reading this online, you are connected to a glorious resource, the internet. You can –

  • Challenge yourself with puzzles and logic games – more absorbing than candy crush
  • Learn things, from sewing to toaster repair, and about things, from gardening to geology
  • See amazing visuals (and engage your other senses)
  • Hear classical music (de-stressing), watch/read classic literature (thought-provoking)

Well-being is about mind, body, and spirit – or some would say mind, body, and emotions. This post is about mind.

Everything listed is free, and ad-free as far as I know. I do have AdBlockerPlus installed. (A few sites want me to disable it; you can, but I just go somewhere else: I like an ad-free life.)

There’s a whole lot more, and lots I don’t know about. I hope to invite your suggestions in future – so we can pool our keep-it-together resources!

Add to yourself

Own your time – choose a small, light-hearted project – accomplishment feels fantastic.

  • An internet search for “how to…” will find step-by-step instructions and explanations and videos for just about anything.
    • My best project was to start learning to play a recorder. I have zero music training, but Value Village had a recorder for $3…. Music tunes up the brain (pun!), so that’s a 3-in-1 – learning, brain agility, and (some day…) music.
  • A site for starting a language: DuoLingo. You have to sign up, but it’s free and gentle.
  • Do a MOOC – free online courses of good quality.

Enrich yourself

Stretch yourself

  • Scroll down here and try Tiles and Set – matching games with a twist. (Both include colour matching, so, not for people who have colour-blindness.)
  • If you like the Set game, here’s another site.
  • Good word games, especially Popword and Eight Letters. Timed; you need a fair bit of English to get very far, but even trying to find words is super exercise.

Amuse yourself

According to research, laughter boosts the immune system. Here’s some help with that – 

Relax yourself

  • Put yourself in the scene with wildlife photo galleries. Explore more than the visual – notice the textures, imagine the sounds, the temperature, what the air is like.
  • With kids – or without them!  – a wildlife gallery can launch a week’s worth of projects. Pick a photo and (1) learn about the animal, (2) draw it in different poses, (3) write a story or poem or song about it, (4) make a collage of photos of it, (5) tell someone about it in 5 minutes, (6) find out what else the photographer has done.