During my recent visit to Toronto I had the opportunity to visit the rooftop garden at The Fairmont Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto. I heard about it through a Twitter connection (@maryluzonfood) and jumped at the chance of seeing how this large-scale hotel, the place where dignitaries and heads of state stay on their visits to Toronto, grows food on site.
Executive chef David Garcelon met me at the hotel lobby and showed me up to the 14th floor rooftop. Up the elevator, then a few flights of stairs and there it was: the garden and apiary (bee hive yard) on four thousand square feet with impressive views.
Fifteen apprentices water, weed and care for the garden. Hotel chefs can pick whatever they want to use in dishes served throughout the hotel’s nine restaurants.
Alpine strawberries, mint, tomatoes and lavender are just a few of the crops grown at the hotel. It’s a shame I didn’t visit during the summer when the garden is at its peak. In fact, I visited a few days after the first planting following winter but there were some plants already growing in the garden’s raised beds.
Honey is also harvested on this roof. That was probably the coolest part of this garden. Chef Garcelon established three bee hives on the hotel’s rooftop in June 2008 with the help of the Toronto Beekeepers Cooperative. The initial three hives were doubled to six in 2009. Since 2008, 800 pounds of honey have been harvested — 420 last season. The honey, which earned third place in the 2008 and 2009 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair respectively, is used in the hotel’s dishes and cocktails. After my trip, I found out that five other Fairmont hotels, including the Fairmont Washington, D.C., have apiaries.
At the garden, they also compost and chef Garcelon tries to expand what is grown. He even experimented growing grapes (in the photo below you can see the vines).
While I know this isn’t the only hotel chain exercising green practices — The Fairmont Royal York also commits to using sustainable seafood, composting and using local product wherever possible — it was great to see the garden up close. I left with an invitation to return in the summer to see the harvest. Too bad I’ll probably have to settle for pictures.