An Ecological Steward & Community Builder
Lois Lindsay, the Program Director of Evergreen Brick Works, never intended to stay in the city after completing her Master’s Degree in Geography and Honors degree in English and Environmental Studies. However, after stints working in international development and on ecotourism projects, an opportunity presented itself to become involved in one of the most exciting sustainable ecological experiments in the heart of Toronto—and everything changed.
Evergreen Brick Works, founded by CEO Geoff Cape, is a former brick foundry in the Don Valley, that has been transformed into an eco-oasis and now hosts everything from farmers’ markets to seed exchanges to bicycle repair workshops and so much more—events curated and executed (with love and care) by Lois and her team.
Here she shares the exciting activities coming up for spring at Brickworks, how she’d spend her dream day in Toronto, and her favorite whole-wheat pie crust recipe.
What is the philosophy behind Evergreen Brick Works and what made you want to get involved?
Well, first of all, Evergreen Brick Works is just such an awesome place, it’s hard not to want to get involved. There’s always something new to see or do–from exhibits or festivals to kids’ nature clubs, weekly markets, bike rentals and so much more. It’s a great place for children and grown-ups alike, and–with the free shuttle running from Broadview Station 7 days/week–it’s super easy to get to.
As for the philosophy behind this place, I’d say that Evergreen Brick Works is really about the past, present, and especially the future of cities. The most compelling thing for me–the reason that I got involved with Evergreen to begin with–is that this place inspires people to think ambitiously, boldly and creatively about what’s possible for our cities. That sounds a bit lofty, perhaps, but it’s actually very rooted in real experiences: eating good food, grown locally by a farmer you can say ‘thanks’ to; getting muddy in the Children’s Garden while you build a fort or a fire; exploring the local trail system by bike before circling back for a local brew; or getting everything you need to grow your first backyard tomato plant—all without leaving the city. It’s a place to explore what’s possible, and to be part of the change. I think people are hungry for that kind of optimism.
And of course, I can’t resist the poetry of this place: the idea that a 100-year old former brick-making factory—which produced the materials that literally built much of the city of Toronto—is now a showcase for a new kind of city building. That’s a pretty sweet story.
How has Evergreen impacted the city of Toronto? Have you seen residents change their habits and lifestyle?
I’ve been working in this field for over 15 years, and I’m amazed – and inspired – to see how issues like urban planning, sustainable food systems, walkable neighborhoods and active transportation have gained currency. When Evergreen started its work, 25 years ago now, there was still an idea that ‘environmentalism’ was exclusively about protecting the rainforest and saving the whales. We used to have to explain to people what ecological sustainability had to do with city living. Now, it’s a no-brainer: Toronto residents are embracing local food, advocating for improved bike lanes, getting their hands in the dirt to grow their own veggies, and getting involved in urban planning or policy decisions. Certainly, there have been active and dedicated people working on these issues all along. What’s changed is that they’ve gone mainstream, and I think that – partly by infusing the work of urban greening with optimism and playfulness – Evergreen has had a role in this transition. What’s really exciting is that these changes have set the stage for bigger public conversations, such as the phenomenal attention now being given to the city’s unique ravine systems. It’s an inspiring moment for our city.
What’s on your spring calendar that’s unique and exciting this year?
Earth Month is always a busy season at Evergreen Brick Works – it’s when the site really comes alive! Our DIY Bike Shop – Bike Works – ramps up; we’re seeing hints of green in the gardens; and the Evergreen Garden Market starts to stock up on the most amazing selection of native trees, heirloom varieties of veggie plants & seeds, and all kinds of gardening supplies.
This year, I’m particularly excited about our new ‘Drop, Swap & Shop’ event on April 17th – it’s the ultimate Earth Month celebration and spring-cleaning day (evergreen.ca/swap). Visitors can unload unused items, trade for new treasures, eat great food, and learn tips from expert organizers. It’s a fantastic way to launch the spring season.
Your food program is amazing! Could you share one recipe that uses seasonal spring ingredients that can be found in your garden?
One of the great perks of working at Evergreen Brick Works is the food! Whether it’s grabbing a gourmet stuffed flatbread sandwich at Café Belong, stocking the fridge with local veggies from the Farmer’s Market, or watching students create their own “hand salads” from the lettuces, herbs and edible flowers growing in the Children’s Garden.
Personally, I can’t resist a great pie–they’re wholesome yet decadent; they can be sweet or savory; they can be adapted to any season or taste; and they’re perfect for sharing. So, basically the ideal food! Also, making pie counts as “me time” in my life—and it’s a skill that I’m now passing along to my two sons. This recipe for whole-grain pie doughis a fantastic starting point for a seasonal treat. As the spring fruits start to come into season, it can be filled with local rhubarb and strawberries in June, and raspberries in July. Or, I use it to make a savory quiche filled with those tender asparagus shoots that are the harbingers of spring in May, along with early greens like baby spinach.
Can you describe your dream day in Toronto?
How to choose!? There are so many possible dream days. I’d start with a visit to the Farmer’s Market with my husband and kids – we go to either the Evergreen Brick Works market, or The Stop’s Farmer’s Market at Artscapte Wychwood Barns, both of which are delights for the senses, and the kids love being given a ‘budget’ to spend on their own fruit and veggie choices (plus a treat, of course). I’d take my time enjoying some hot breakfast (a plate of dumplings, or perhaps a fish fritter) and strong coffee before stocking up on fresh veg and fruits, some local cheese and (my weakness) cured meats. Next, I’d hit the ravines–Toronto’s hidden jewels–either on two feet or two wheels. The trails in the lower Don Valley are a favorite destination, and I seem to discover something new every time. After that, it’d be time to gather some friends and family in our little backyard for a low-key end to the day. Spring evenings, my kids like to spend time counting the number of pea shoots poking out of the soil, ‘watering’ the garden (OK, it’s a waterfight), and generally mucking around outside while the grown-ups crack open a local beer and tend to the BBQ. Perfection.