Vancouver’s gritty Downtown Eastside is not the place I would think to look for an urban farm. Yet that is where SOLEfood Farm is training inner-city residents to become farmers and entrepreneurs.
I learned about the social enterprise through an article Zoe McKnight wrote for the Vancouver Sun. She caught my attention when she wrote that Michael Ableman, one of my food heroes, is SOLEfood’s director.
Abelman has long been an inspiration to me – as a talented and articulate farmer, writer and photographer. I first heard of him when he was dreaming the Center for Urban Agriculture in Santa Barbara into existence. Later, when I was farming and working with community food initiatives, I learned he had moved to Salt Spring Island.
Now he and his small crew of fellow visionaries are setting out to teach skills and provide opportunities for inner-city residents. They envision a network of farms throughout Vancouver, revitalizing neighbourhoods, providing employment, and supplying fresh food to farmers markets and restaurants.
We’re demonstrating this can in fact be considered a serious enterprise for urban areas. We’re not talking about community gardens any more. We’re taking it up a level.
A look at the veggies beginning to thrive in the garden boxes in this series of photos on Facebook will make you a believer. SOLEfood Farm already has a half-acre farm on East Hastings Street. Three other sites are on city land, and if you check out their Facebook page you’ll get a sense of the impressive progress they are already making.
In a CNN video on Vancouver’s urban farmers you can see Co-director Seann Dory talk about the East Hastings farm. (He also handles the Twitter feed.) In the video below (from film and television producer Peter Prince, Abelman talks about food and farming and says, “Farming is one of the few livelihoods I feel I could do that is not sucking the life out of the world. It’s actually giving back.”
Update July 7, 2013: The City of Vancouver has leased a 5-acre, city-owned lot to SOLEfood farms for $1 a year. The urban farm has planted nearly 500 trees in raised boxes. Along with the fruit trees will be dozens of varieties of culinary herbs. The CBC article calls this the largest urban orchard in North America.