CityMash.com - The West Coast has always advocated a green outlook to living, and Vancouver is no exception. Whether it be in the form of rooftop gardens or community agriculture projects, the city has experienced a boom in terms of different organizations and individuals looking to spruce up urban centers.
The idea of urban farming isn’t a new idea by any stretch of the imagination – ever since the 1960’s with architectural geniuses like Paolo Soleri pioneering the idea of ‘arcologies’, or cities designed to mimic or include elements from the natural world, there has been a gradual shift toward implementing more greenery in otherwise barren or lifeless areas of metropolitan areas.
There are a number of reasons for this: the most obvious perhaps is that aesthetically there’s something about incorporating trees and natural flora into a cityscape. But on a more practical level, it also serves as a way to encourage local bird and insect life, reduce the carbon imprint of fossil fuels, help local economies grow by selling to restaurants and eateries (one report by CBC found that urban farms sold nearly $418,000 to local establishments in 2013 alone), and limit the dependence on outside resources.
Leading the way in terms of green spaces, Vancouver is a great place to grow food both in terms of individual gardening practices and by participating in community gardening programs, and we look at some of the ways you can get involved.
Inner City Farms
One of the bigger cooperatives in the Vancouver area, Inner City Farms at last count had nearly 20 different farms that they operated. Many of these farms are extremely small, but it’s precisely their ability to capitalize on space to produce an amazing amount of food that hallmarks them as a successful organization.
Generally speaking, they try to team up with landowners (often times something as simple as a backyard) to design and create garden spaces that can help produce abundant crops, and try to pick varieties with high yield. A big factor in their business model is the existence of a harvest share, where members meet to talk with farmers and learn about growing techniques.
This is made all the more remarkable by the fact that when the actual amount of land they operate is tallied up, it’s a little less of an acre. While Vancouver’s temperate weather and long growing season plays a big role in their success, the farmers themselves often have extensive experience in agriculture, and advocate a totally organic and natural approach, avoiding the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
If you have a chunk of lawn in your backyard and want to get the lowdown, they’re always eager to talk to prospective shareholders and even offer occasional internships.
Hasting’s Urban Farm
You can’t get much more central than Hastings, and for a number of years the Hasting’s Urban Farm has been operating in the Downtown Eastside for a number of years in a renovated lot.
Piggybacking on the success of other urban farming initiatives, this organization doesn’t just produce food, but also has a very integral function in offering support and educational services to locals living in the area.
A number of their partners include Hives For Humanity Society and the WATARIS Latin American Outreach Program, but also fosters hands-on instruction in agricultural practices such as food preservation, composting techniques, and increasing habitat for pollinators like insects and birds.
Community volunteer hours are from 11am to 1pm every Tuesday and Thursday, and if you’re interested in apiology (or the study of bees) they have workshops on Thursdays at 2pm from May to September.
Another East Vancouver favorite, SkyHarvest was actually the brainchild of graduate Aaron Quesnel who did his thesis on rooftop gardens and rooftop greenhouses as a way to push cities toward more sustainable means of food production.
The majority of their produce is geared towards supply restaurants and fostering local economic growth and specializes in microgreens, everything from herbs like basil, cilantro, and rosemary to arugula, peas, radishes, and kale – all of which is delivered to their businesses on bikes.
With a dedicated staff and an extended growing season because of the use of greenhouses, they’re another great way to get involved in the community and learn something along the way as you develop your own green thumb. They routinely offer internship, employment, and volunteer opportunities with much of the work involving hands-on interaction every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday during harvesting – everything from planting seeds and cultivating microgreens to filling trays and building shelves.
Be sure to check their listings with spring on the horizon; given their rampant success, it’s not farfetched to see their operation expanding in the near future as the demand for locally grown and organic microgreens becomes even bigger.
Whether you’re a student or an adult, Fresh Roots definitely offers a unique experience, and is one of the bigger and more well recognized NGOs in Vancouver – founded in 2009, they’ve adhered to a mission statement of providing information and chances for people of all walks of life to learn where there food comes from, and have grown considerably in the years since.
By working with the Vancouver School Board they were able to bring their program into the schools by setting up small gardens that the kids could operate, all the while encouraging ecological stewardship and sustainability. As a result, they now have a number community involvement projects, and are always looking for more volunteers to lend a hand, other schools to make relationships with, or even just donations and a visit by one of their local markets.
To get involved, take a look at their employment opportunities or fire off an email notifying them of your interest.
These are just a handful of the urban farming programs in Vancouver, be it downtown or in the suburbs, and is proof that gardening within city limits is something that is growing in popularity – it also marks a conscious shift away from reliance on imported food, a belief in organic sustainability and locavore culture, and a resurgence of practical knowledge and community involvement.
Just another thing that makes Vancouver such a unique and stimulating place to live!