Downtown Food: Making a Habit of Supporting Local


Written By Allison Smith, Thrive

Tucked in the heart of Calgary’s financial district, Downtown Food is growing food downtown. From figs to swiss chard, to tomatoes to honey comb, Chef and owner Darren Maclean is defying what can be grown on rooftops in Calgary.

Darren’s menu is inspired by the ethnic minorities across Canada and he applies their flavor profile to local produce.

With a long time dream of producing his own food, Darren was able to make his dream a reality this past year. With the help of local urban agriculture experts, he has managed to have a rainfall irrigation system, over 60 different types of vegetables, fruits and herbs, and plans to create a green house in the new year.

It definitely was not the easiest thing to do – being locked in the middle of the city. But as Darren says “The right thing, and the hard thing are usually the same.”

Intrinsic connection with your produce.

Since its creation, the rooftop garden has sparked conversation about urban agriculture with other local restaurants.  “Really great chefs get excited about where their products come from,” Darren explained. In addition to taste, Darren described a human element to growing your own food. “If you’ve watched a tomato grow for 3 months, you’re less likely to waste it because it didn’t just come in a package or a box. There’s an intrinsic connection with the produce.” This connection with food and the clear difference in taste that local produce brings,  makes it an easy win with chefs.

Changing the way we think about business.

Darren would like to see this type of business practice as the norm, not the exception. He appreciates the recent attention the restaurant has received; however it would be better if this type of practice wasn’t seen as so novel.

“Basically, if we choose local, and enough of us chose local then eventually it becomes something that is just done and everyone has access to it.” He added, “If money is your only motivation, then buy local because it keeps the money coming back to you.”

For the health of our communities and the planet. 

“I want my community, not just my customers to be healthier,” said Darren.  He grows  food for the long term benefit of the community and overall planet. Having turned the desolate rooftop of beer bottles and pigeons to a rooftop ecosystem, he hopes that other restaurants in the community will be inspired to do the same. “At the end of the day if you’re not going to support local for sustainability reasons, if you don’t care that the oceans are dying and you don’t care about green house gases, and you love the economy permanent growth model, then buy local for no reason other than you’re helping your fellow community. To keep sddssdthe hyper-local movement. The project was in partnership with Apiaries and Bees for Communities, The Leaf Ninjas, Broxburn Vegetables, REAP business association and GreenGate Garden Centers.  All of whom are paving the way for Calgarians to live more sustainably.

Stay tuned for more Urban Agriculture updates in the new year! Darren will continue to do what he is doing, and whenever possible make the right decisions for the people in the community. As he explains, its important to know where you have the greatest impact. For him, it’s with his customers. “I’m a chef, I’m a cook and a business man.  If you start making changes in your own life, it cascades. That’s what we try to do here at the restaurant, is positively affect change in our own small way, on this little corner of Stephen Avenue”

Visit the Downtown Food website:


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