Though Urban Stream is leaning much more towards our composting technology these days, we have a microfarming project on the go with Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company. Rocky Mountain bought our Urban Microfarm container a little over a year ago. And a little less than a year ago, the City of Vancouver issued a stop work order on that project due to a neighbour’s complaint.
Despite the city issuing the stop work order, they were really eager to get us up and running. We worked closely with the city to get the unit up to the city’s code. Because the City of Vancouver had never seen a project like our Microfarm, so we had to work with them to figure out which building codes we have to abide by. Ultimately, we had to change the roof on the micro-farm, upgrade the electrical and seismically anchor the shipping container to ensure that if a big earthquake hits, the container won’t budge.
This week, after the container was inspected by the engineer and our friendly-neighbourhood building inspector, the retrofits were approved! We are so happy to have gotten to this point after almost a year of retrofitting and working with the city. Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company has been so wonderfully patient with us and the city, and we couldn’t be happier to have them as a flagship customer.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be outfitting the micro-farm with our second generation worm composter and Lifespace Projects’ self-watering planter boxes and in no time at all you’ll be able to enjoy Urban Stream’s fresh greens on Rocky Mountain’s delicious flatbread pizzas.
Foodline Radio, a local food and food security show on Vancouver Co-op Radio, recently interviewed Urban Stream’s Wes Regan, Karen Ageson from Farmers on 57th and SOLEfood‘s Seann Dory, on urban farming trends in Vancouver. Local author and previous City Councilor Peter Ladner also chimed in via phone and Truck Farm/Strathcona 1890 Urban Seeds Collective founder Judy Kenzie probed some of the issues further with an opening monologue and some questions towards the end, particularly around urban farming business models. Wes and Karen were also wearing their respective Vancouver Urban Farming Society hats as current Treasurer and Vice-President of the VUFS.
The interview weaves through several areas but chief among them include:
- the generational context of urban and rural farming (the average age of farmers has steadily increased, yet urban farming has been embraced largely by younger, often university educated men and women)
- How can we reconcile interest in local food, and the need for urban farms to be financially feasible, with food security issues and access to healthy local foods for lower income communities.
- The economics of food production, and urban farming. Often times farmers are charging premium prices at farmers markets or in local stores or are growing for restaurants (often high end). This relates to the previous question of food equity/food justice and food access, for lower income earners in cities like Vancouver. But there is also a strong argument that we have undervalued or forcibly devalued the true costs of food production – farmers deserve to make a decent living feeding us and the current economics of food production rest on often exploitative and entropic forces, poor labor standards and wages and ever increasing economies of scale – which in turn drive prices down. Not to mention the exclusion of negative externality costs like water runoff causing eutrophication. This issue of recalibrating the economics of food production while enabling better and broader food access for locally grown foods is a broader policy problem that Karen Ageson suggests should not just be on the farmer’s shoulders, we need to find ways to reconcile these two things, farmers shouldn’t just be told they charge too much and be expected to sell their foods for as cheap as possible.
- What does urban farming look like? Similar to a previous blog post here the discussion also ventured into the practice of urban farming vs urban horticulture and gardening, technologies or processes being developed or adopted, infrastructure gaps etc. What are the newest trends and how do we differentiate these various things?
Urban Stream continues to wrap up 2012 on a very busy note, Nick and Wes had the pleasure of presenting to community leaders on the Sunshine Coast (which is definitely, definitely, not an island, and don’t refer to it as such when MCing an event there…) at a recent Holiday event for Community Futures. Community Futures is a non profit organization that has actively been engaged in regional economic development for the past 25 years, funded predominantly by Western Economic Diversification (Government of Canada).
The Sunshine Coast region has limited transportation routes connecting it to the coast and to the interior. If a major landslide or another natural hazard were to block a key route then numerous communities would face potential food security challenges, not only this but the region has been working to improve sustainability and attract young entrepreneurs and has several very innovative green businesses that are making a splash up there, Urban Stream looks to be added to the list soon as we finalize an agreement with two community partners up there who are interested in what our Micro Farm can do for them and their community. Dramatically reduce food waste and improve access to year round fresh food for starters. With the success of the first unit up there, we have a champion (yes a Sunshine Coast Urban Stream champion) who is interested in brokering a relationship with another venture that may see several more units ordered in the next year or so. Needless to say, Urban Stream is excited for the relationships we’ve been building there and the appetite for innovation that exists in those communities. As things progress on this front and become more solidified we’ll be providing more details.
The Sunshine Coast experience has been great so far because not only does it reaffirm that we have a product and service that people genuinely see the value in but it also gives us a chance to test our technology in a relatively remote market. Wes in particular is very keen to see USI technology applied to Arctic food security solutions, being born in Inuvik and having family up there. Plus Nick grew up in Edmonton (which is almost arctic!).
The build out of our Granville Street Micro Farm at Luke’s Corner Bar & Kitchen is also coming along nicely, more on that next blog post.