Image: Darlene Huynh
Natalie Boustead and Lauren Pirie tend to think big. As the brains behind the arts and environmental organization the About Face Collective, the two women are hoping to address everything from childhood nutrition to community interaction with their current undertaking. Called the Everything Roof, the project focuses on an empty rooftop above the Center for Social Innovation‘s Annex location, which Boustead and Pirie plan to turn into a green space for local art, fresh produce, and farming workshops–a place, essentially, where everything is possible.
Ambitious projects are nothing new for Boustead and Pirie, who met through mutual friends three years ago in the hopes of creating a solar-paneled laundromat and art gallery. “We quickly realized that the scope of that was beyond our means as a startup,” says Boustead, who has a degree in education. “When we heard that the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) was purchasing a new building in our neighbourhood, we decided to pitch an idea for this rooftop garden space that combines my farming background with Lauren’s art and design background.”
After receiving the go-ahead from CSI, Boustead and Pirie set about planning their project, which involves renovating the currently empty concrete rooftop and creating an accessible garden, complete with a staircase, deck, planters, and designs commissioned by local artists. “It’s a really awesome space–it has the advantage of being the tallest building within a few blocks, so you can see right down to the lake and the Toronto skyline,” says Pirie. An illustrator and self-described “garbage picker,” Pirie has reached out to a network of artists and architects to help design and decorate the space, which will be done using recycled and reclaimed materials. “Natalie and I both had the idea of presenting something like food security and local food production in a really creative and well-designed way, so that we can sell the concept to urban dwellers,” Pirie says. “I think that the more we can involve creative people in anything that’s socially important, the better chance we have of making those things succeed.”
After the roof is in place, Boustead and Pirie plan to implement programs such as sprouting workshops and lessons on plant identification. “We want to teach kids about the food system as a whole by showing them where their food comes from and how it’s created, and fostering an appreciation for that process and all the people that are involved,” says Boustead. “Having kids taste food right as it’s picked from the garden–it’s these simple things that can have a huge impact.” The women have also created partnerships with organizations like Skate4Cancer and SKETCH: Working Arts for Street Involved and Homeless Youth.
As for the bounty that the garden yields, Boustead and Pirie plan to sell the food at local markets, and contribute to the café that CSI is building in the first level of their Annex location. “We’re hoping to provide some of the produce for the café. That would be the most local food you would find in the city–there’d be no transportation, so it would be zero emissions!” laughs Boustead. By turning a tar slab into a green space, the roof will also reduce smog and improve the surrounding air quality. The roof will be accessible to the public, and people will be able to rent the space for community events.
All these dreams, of course, come with a cost: through a series of business plans, Pirie and Boustead have estimated that they need approximately $240,000 to make the Everything Roof a reality. For the past year, the two women–who started the About Face Collective on a volunteer basis, and thus receive no financial compensation for their efforts–have been applying for grants and spearheading fundraising initiatives, like their current project on IndieGoGo, which features a charming and informative video about the Everything Roof. If some of their grant applications are approved and their fundraising targets are met, Boustead and Pirie could start construction within a few months, and potentially be growing crops and running workshops by 2013.
For both Boustead and Pirie, the scope of their vision is streamlined by the connections they can draw between the many goals they have for the Everything Roof. “Both food and art are nourishing to people in so many different ways,” says Boustead. “I think that so often there’s a separation between all these things, but actually they are all in some way inspiring people and giving them what they need.”
Wyndham Bettencourt-McCarthy writes regularly for Toronto Standard.