2013 proved to be a good year for urban farming in Vancouver, and the Province of BC. Farms continue to sustain themselves, and new farms keep popping up. Although some unfortunate incidents have seen growers face challenges too. In Vancouver urban farming is still risky business for some. It remains difficult for some farmers to ensure tenure on any land, and though recommendations in Vancouver’s recent food strategy do call for protections for urban farmers, including things like an official business license, these things have not yet been formalized in many cases. If a developer, neighbour, or someone with an axe to grind sends in complaints to the City, farmers have few defenses at our disposal. Urban Stream thankfully has an extremely compact, self contained, and mobile system that is designed to thrive despite the uncertainties of urban development. We also enjoy an excellent relationship with restaurants like Luke’s Corner Bar & Kitchen who host us in their back parking lot.
One way to ensure that farms with less mobile operations are able to attain better tenure, avoid conflict with neighbours and businesses and be partners in building community, is to identify and encourage best practices in urban farming. The Vancouver Urban Farming Society has been doing much work in this area over the past year, and it was the theme at this year’s Vancouver Urban Farming Forum (the 3rd forum on UF in Vancouver). Urban Stream is proud to be a founding member of the VUFS.
Here is a recap of recent 2o13 reports and research coming out of Vancouver and a few other areas on Urban Farming. Let us know if we missed anything in the comments section, we know there’s a lot of amazing stuff going on in cities all over the world. Or tweet it to us @UrbanStream_Van
2013 Recap (a non exhaustive list of several good reports)
The Urban Farming Guidebook: Planning for the Business of Growing Food in BC Towns and Cities HB Lanarc – Golder, 2013 (Janine de la Salle & Joanna Clark)
Guide to Urban Farming In New York State, by Hannah Koski (MA Thesis, Cornell University, December 2012) Excellent website full of resources based on the findings – Northeast Beginning Farmers Project, Cornell University
These are just several this year and there are many theses and dissertations that we could probably include here too. Once again, let us know if we missed anything in the comments section below or tweet it to us @UrbanStream_Van
Here’s to 2014 being an even better year for urban farming in Vancouver and beyond.
Though I had to stand for nearly 3 hours before getting my chance to speak to Mayor and Council it was an exciting morning on Thursday the 30th of January when council heard over a dozen urban farmers, community garden volunteers, farmer’s market coordinators and food security advocates speak enthusiastically in support of the Food Policy Council’s Food Strategy. After nearly three years of engagement, intensive research, establishing of benchmarks, compiling of data, identification of trends, barriers, opportunities and innovations, staff presented their work (on the 29th, questions and comments differed to the 30th) and helped to keep Vancouver on course to becoming the most sustainable and resilient city in the world. The report was accepted and the strategy passed unanimously.
Brent Mansfield, Trish Kelly and the entire Food Policy Council deserve much praise in championing this process. Brent kicked off the speakers with an inspiring and eloquent diatribe that the Chair of the committee graciously allowed to go well over the 5 minutes allotted! I think we all appreciated him getting those few extra minutes considering the magnitude of the occasion. Staff at the City of Vancouver but in particular Mary Clare Zak and her team of Dr. Wendy Mendes, James O’Neill and Thien Phan also deserve to be acknowledged for the incredible amount of work they put into this strategy. It’s comprehensive, thoughtful and progressive and sees our local food system in a holistic context as it relates to the cultural, environmental, social and economic needs of our city and region.
Some things in this report that are particularly useful to Urban Farmers:
A new business license category for Urban Farms. Not having a license before, or an approved use to match (approved uses to spaces also being examined to enable farm and farm-related businesses) has impeded growers from accessing loans and finance, from obtaining insurance and other important steps that mitigate risk or help to grow their ventures.
Further to this the topic of farm gate sales in urban communities has now been officially broached. While this one will likely require a lot of work it’s exciting to see this make the cut. Farm gate sales are when a farmer can sell to the public right on site, instead of transporting their produce to a distributor or market.
On the issue of distribution though the strategy also calls for infrastructure and systems support for alternative distribution models like CSAs. Also cool.
A Food Business Incubator concept was also noted in the strategy, and as a member and Director of the Vancouver Urban Farming Society, I’m particularly interested in capacity building for existing and new farmers, including strengthening the business planning and operational management capacity of farmers and food systems entrepreneurs. Proud to say that the VUFS, of which Urban Stream is a founding member, contributed to the crafting of this document through our direct contact with the COV staff and the Food Policy Council and through the hosting of a number of workshops and Urban Farming Forums that examined the urban farming issues that have now been addressed through this strategy. Supporters such as the Real Estate Foundation of BC, Vancity, Building Opportunities with Business, the Hastings Crossing BIA (HxBIA) and the Organic Sector Development Program also deserve to be acknowledged. Their support has been instrumental, particularly that of the Real Estate Foundation and Vancity, in helping the VUFS start strong.
While focused very much on the commercial urban agriculture aspects of this food strategy It would be remiss of me not to give a shout out to all those from the community gardens and farmers market who spoke passionately about the community building and overwhelming popularity they’ve enjoyed. The wait list for community garden plots is astounding in Vancouver and Tara McDonald and the Vancouver Farmers Market team have done an incredible job making Vancouver’s Farmers Markets the major success that they are, beloved by Vancouverites from Champlain Heights to the Westend.
For a more comprehensive examination of the entire Food Strategy I recommend reading Nevin Cohen’s recent Blog. Nevin is a researcher and lecturer from the New School in New York who was out here last year, his focus is on urban food policy and innovation in planning. I have a feeling he might be back out here in the coming months and years a few more times.
I also want to give a shout out to Ilana Labow of Fresh Roots. Her impassioned and playful recollection of the cultural and inter-generational experiences of community building through food inspired Councilor Kerry Jang to engage in an entertaining and thoughtful discussion with Ilana that was just a perfect way to bring us to lunch.
Proud to be a Vancouverite.