Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


Urban Non-Farm Food Production - Urban Agriculture

Prepared by Michael Levenston
Executive Director, City Farmer
Monday July 12, 1982,
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC
Canadian Society for Horticulture Science
Agricultural Institute of Canada
(Slides accompanied this presentation)

Harrowsmith, published in the village of Camden East, (population 300) Ontario, is one of Canada's most popular and successful magazines (circulation 156,500). It serves its readers as a "point of communication for thought on alternatives to urban living and bigness." However not all of its readers have made it "back to the land" in the country. 46% of them are urban dwellers.

City Farmer, a non-profit research and education organization located in downtown Vancouver, BC, looks at ways of getting "back to the land" in the city. Its primary work is investigating urban food production.

The municipality of Vancouver (population 427,000) has 6515 acres in back and front yards, on boulevards, and on various vacant lands with the potential for growing food. If 1000 square feet of land is the area needed for a family of four to feed itself fresh vegetables and sufficient excess to can or freeze for winter, then the 6515 acres available in Vancouver could feed 2 1/2 times the population of the city.

City Farmer also publishes a newspaper named City Farmer which covers Urban Agriculture stories. The variety of subject matter covered in the paper conveys the interdisciplinary nature of this exciting, new, educational field.

In the Strathcona area of Vancouver 90% of the gardens produce food. The gardeners, who are mainly of Chinese descent, grow varieties of vegetables that are common in Asia.

Honey bees are raised illegally in the city by many people. These outlaw bees are responsible for the pollination of most fruit trees, vegetable crops and flowers in Vancouver. Also their hives reward their owners with anywhere from 30-100 lbs. of honey per hive.

Chickens are also illegal residents of city backyards. Six hens will give a homeowner not only five or six eggs a day in summer, and two or three eggs in winter but also fertilizer (manure) for the garden and a disposal system for food scraps.

Exotic walnuts, filberts, and hazelnuts are all popular back-yard nut trees in Vancouver.

Fig trees, a specialty with Mediterranean immigrants in the city are harvested twice a year in gardens on the mild Pacific coast. Both brown (Brown Turkey) and green (Smyrna) varieties are used to make delicious jams and an excellent pie served with whipped cream.

Only three producing banana plants are grown in Vancouver due to our cool climate. However bananas are the most popular fruit in British Columbia representing 19% of all fruit bought. Apples (18%) are second, oranges (l7%) third. For two out of three of our favourite fruits we must rely entirely upon imports.

Some of Vancouver's finest restaurants grow their own herbs hydroponically. This is the only way they can get fresh herbs twelve months of the year.

Not all city farmers have access to a home backyard. Rooftops, apartment balconies, and vacant lots can all be turned into productive food growing areas.

Good health can be achieved through a gardening lifestyle. Nutrition, exercise, and therapy in the garden are all important urban agriculture topics.

13-15% of the energy consumed in Canada is consumed within the food system. That energy is consumed in producing food on the farm, in transporting, processing, packaging and selling food, and in preparing it at home. By growing food at home a good portion of the energy used in the food system is saved.

The best farmland in Canada is located adjacent to urban centres. The urban consumer must be made aware of the repercussions of loss of farmland due to urban sprawl. There is no better way of making him aware of the issue than by turning him into a "producer" of food utilizing the soil in his backyard.

Environmental pollution in urban areas affects city farming. Emissions from cars and industry, the use of poisonous pesticides and herbicides, heavy metal contaminants in sludge as fertilizer, lead in the soil from lead based paints, are among the pollutants that must be dealt with.

City Farmer's research and education work in 1982 is taking place at the newly opened Vancouver Energy Information Centre (2150 Maple Street, Vancouver, B.C. VGJ 3T3). City Farmer is responsible for coordinating a demonstration food garden in the Centre's backyard and solar greenhouse.

After two months work the garden is well underway. Sections of it will be specially prepared for the physically handicapped and for children.

City residents who wish to grow food but have no experience are invited to come and "work to learn" as apprentices. Informal classes are held on such subjects as composting and insect collecting. Many varieties of vegetable and fruit will be tested throughout the year including winter hardy varieties.

A monthly bulletin on the progress of the garden (planting and harvesting dates, pest control methods, etc.) will be published in 1983 for use by home gardeners in Vancouver.

City Farmer has also organized a series of eighteen lectures on urban agriculture in 1982. Eighteen experts from universities, ministries of agriculture, commercial enterprises and home gardens speak to city dwellers about small-scale food production.

City Farmer's 1982 Urban Agriculture Lecture Series

Course Coordinator Michael Levenston 'City Farmer Newspaper'

SPRING Saturdays, 10a.m. till 12 noon

RICHARD BRITZ, Landscape Architect, Author of 'The Edible City,' 1981

2. Feb. 27 THE SOIL
ARTHUR BOMKE, Assistant Professor of Soil Science, U.B.C.

MARK SWEENEY, P. Ag. Horticulturist, B.C. Ministry of Agriculture.

JOHN HILL, P. Ag. Horticulturist, B.C. Ministry of Agriculture.

RISA SMITH, Graduate Student, Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, U.B.C.

DAVE ORMROD, P. Ag. Plant Pathologist, B.C Minisrty of Agriculture

SUMMER Thursdays, 7p.m. till 9p.m.

JOHN & MARIAN MILLEN, Expert Organic Gardeners.

DANIELA BATES, M. Sc., Apiary Inspector, B.C. Ministry of Agriculture.

V.C. RUNECKLES, Professor, and Head of Plant Sciences, U.B.C.

10. July 29 HERBS
BONI TOWNSEND & FAMILY, Growers, Lowland Herb Farm.

MARGARET COXON, Horticulturist, Education, U.B.C. Botanical Gardens.

J.E. RAHE, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, S.F.U.

FALL Thursdays, 7p.m. till 9p.m;

13. Sept.30 PRESERVING
EILEEN NORMAN, Home Economist.

14. Oct. 7 SEEDS
FOREST SHOMER, Director, Abundant Life Seed Foundation.

CHRIS MATTOCK, Solar Designer, Solar Applications and Research Ltd.

16. Oct. 21 NUTRITION
CAROLE CHRISTOPHER, Ed.D, Nutrition Consulant.

ED MUCKLE, Inventor, Western Water Farms.

TOM LANG, Manager, Woodstoves Unlimited.

COST: $50. per 6 class session
LOCATION: Vancouver Energy Information Centre - 2150 Maple Street, Vancouver

Information booklets are written by City Farmer for all the subjects in the lecture series. Appropriate booklets from the ministries of agriculture and various materials donated by the private sector are also distributed to students. All the lectures are being videotaped for use by educational television. Information Booklets $3 each from City Farmer.

There are many activities across Canada which indicate that interest in urban agriculture is growing.

In Halifax the National Film Board has begun filming the first of three films on urban agriculture. The other two will be shot in Edmonton and Vancouver.

In Ottawa, Dr. Keith Wilde of Agriculture Canada' s Strategic Planning Division is studying the economic benefits of urban agriculture. "Canada currently imports $400 million worth of vegetables each year and another $800 million worth of fruit and nuts. Replacement of $500 million of this total by home-grown produce would be equivalent in balance-of-payment terms to one fifth of our average grain exports."

In Toronto the Pollution Probe Foundation, Ontario's environmental organization, has set up demonstration food gardens at their headquarters, Ecology House. They plan to begin a thorough educational program as soon as funds become available.

In Victoria, British Columbia, M.L.A. Charles Barber has proposed in the Legislature that the Government create an Office of Urban Agriculture. The New Democratic Party if re-elected will create such an office.

Vancouver's City Farmer will continue to work in its capacity as an office of urban agriculture. Over the past four and one half years it has reached thousands of people. If just four more offices (besides Vancouver) were created across the country in Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax, one third of the Canadian population (living within these five metropolitan areas) could be reached.

The idea of encouraging urban food production through an organized effort is not new. During the Second World War the federal and provincial governments of Canada worked together to encourage urban food production to aid the war effort. In fall 1943 the Federal Agriculture Supplies Board reported that 52,000 "Victory Gardens" in Vancouver, New Westminster, Burnaby, and North and West Vancouver harvested 31,000 tons of fruit and vegetables.

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Revised Wednesday, May 5, 1999

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture