The weather on the day of Vancouver’s 8th Urban Farming Forum was typical for January: grey, wet, scatterings of dingy snow left over from a recent fall. It took some effort to imagine tomatoes ripening on the vine or harvest boxes packed with a rainbow of freshly picked produce.
But as Forum participants—farmers, students, urban planners—gathered to share their ideas and concerns, the conference room at the Pacific Coliseum took on a quasi-agrarian vibe (the buffet lunch featuring delicious, city-sourced veggies helped!).
Cultivating in the concrete jungle
“Urban farming” might sound like an oxymoron, but it’s not. While most of us still associate farming with vast rural acreages, and while most of our food does, indeed, come from such places, farming in the city—an age-old practice—is being rediscovered as a potent community asset.
As Vancouver farmer Michael Ableman points out in his inspiring book Street Farm: Growing Food, Jobs, and Hope on the Urban Frontier (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016), city farming fosters invaluable connections, not only between individuals but also between food consumers (in other words, all of us) and the sources of their food.
And, of course, the explosive taste of food that has travelled just a few blocks, rather than a few hundred or thousand kilometers, should be enough to make urban farming supporters of us all.
The many faces of urban farming
From potatoes to peonies, parking lots to private yards, the diversity of urban agriculture products and growing spaces was well represented at the Vancouver Forum. Below is a small sampling of the farms that took part …
Sole Food Street Farms grows fruits and vegetables in containers on parking lots and other unconventional “fields.” Sole Food employs people with limited resources who are coping with addiction and mental health problems. Their artisan-quality produce can be found at farmers’ markets and in restaurants.
City Beet Farm cultivates vegetables and flowers on 18 private yards in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood. In exchange for the use of their property, homeowners receive a weekly harvest box. The remaining produce is sold through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, as well as at markets and groceries.
Farmers on 57th operates an urban farm with a CSA program on the grounds of a long-term care facility for people with disabilities.
Sky Harvest and Food Pedalers both specialize in organic microgreens—like sprouts, but grown entirely in soil. Both companies grow their greens indoors (Food Pedalers uses a converted shipping container) and deliver by bicycle.
As varied as the farms represented at the Vancouver Forum were, the farmers were clearly united in their passion for growing food in the city. Many of the presentations and discussions focused on ways that municipal governments can support urban agriculture—for example, by making the business side of farming easier and more affordable.
As one farmer put it, we need to think of city farms as a public good—something we’re willing to support, just as we support swimming pools or libraries, because of the value it adds to our lives.
Watch for more on urban agriculture in an upcoming print issue of alive!
Interested in learning more about Michael Ableman and urban farming? Be sure to check out these alive articles:
- Nonprofit Urban Farming
- Soul Food in the City