“Can anyone tell me what the four main ingredients in soil are?” asks Kayla, our workshop director, sitting on a bucket of compost. She’s speaking to a mix of long-time community gardeners and new-to-agriculture Victoria residents gathered here to learn the secrets of soil health. The two-hour community workshop is part of Victoria’s Growing in the City initiative, just one example of how the City of Victoria promotes local food security.

Beyond food security, programs like Growing in the City also address the ever-growing agricultural knowledge gap between urban and rural Canada. While urban farming is becoming more popular, the vast majority of Canadian food production still takes place in rural areas, far from Canada’s urban centres. With 82% of Canadians living in urban areas, and 74% living in large urban centres, most Canadians don’t learn about agriculture in their day to day.

As identified in ICTCs recent study, Canadian Agri-Food Sustainability, this urban-rural knowledge gap is threatening the stability of Canada’s agricultural labour supply and could hinder Canada’s ability to produce food more sustainably.

The study found that while the types of workers needed in agriculture are increasingly diverse—including demand for science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and environment talent—all workers require a baseline understanding of agriculture, which many urban workers don’t have. Rural workers, on the other hand, are often exposed to agriculture from a young age and, because of this, develop agricultural knowledge naturally over the course of their lives. According to interviewees in the study, the divide between urban Canada and agricultural production also limits the number of Canadians who pursue a career in ag: if you don’t come into contact with and understand farms or food production, you might not consider an agricultural career.

“I’m not really sure, but is one of them water?” a girl of about 10 asks in response to the workshop director. While it is too soon to tell, perhaps learning about soil health and food production at this young age will inspire her to pursue a career in soil science or agronomy. This is the hope of organizations like Agriculture in the Classroom Canada, a Canadian charitable organization that partners with educators across Canada to bring agriculture to K-12 classrooms.

For the City of Victoria, it’s clear that agricultural knowledge can be built outside the classroom, too. Beyond the workshop I attended, Growing in the City provides free and low-cost training to Victoria residents on topics like fruit tree health, soil management, pest and disease management, and vertical farming. The city program also gives Victoria residents free food seedlings and gardening materials, distributes grants to community organizations that support urban ag, teaches building developers and managers how to design for urban farming, and in its bylaws, permits Victoria residents to keep beehives and chickens on their property.

In addition to city programs, Victoria’s thriving urban agriculture community is supported by not-for-profits like the Compost Education Centre, which provides composting, waste diversion, and ecological gardening education to Victoria residents, and urban farms like TOPSOIL and Mason Street Farm, which produce—and educate residents about—environmentally sustainable urban food.

Building agricultural knowledge in urban communities can help address Canada’s agri-food labour shortage by closing Canada’s urban-rural ag knowledge gap, building agricultural domain knowledge among STEM and environmental workers, and inspiring more Canadians to pursue a career in agriculture. The City of Victoria makes it clear that in accomplishing this goal, everyone has to play a role, including K-12 educators, not-for-profits and charities, municipal governments, and local urban farms.

To learn more about these and other topics related to agricultural sustainability and Canada’s agri-food labour market, visit the recently published report here.