City Farmer History
The founders of City Farmer met when they were employees of the The Vancouver Community Conservation Centre (VCCC) in February, 1978.
"The VCCC is one of several in B.C. funded by the Federal Office of Energy Conservation under its Eneraction Program. Our general purpose is to promote energy conservation and raise public awarenes of energy-related issues."
In March, 1978 Bob Woodsworth and Michael Levenston proposed that part of the Centre's conservation work should involve promoting urban food production.
VCCC - Urban Agriculture Project
Report for March 1978 - April Plans
We have established the major goals and rationale for a comprehensive approach to urban agriculture. The goals of our project are to:
- Encourage urban agriculture in the city of Vancouver.
- Tie the concept of urban agriculture to energy and conservation aspects of the Conserver outlook.
- Develop an on-going scheme to continue after the contract expires, perhaps a project which would combine a teaching-learning centre with elements of urban agriculture and appropriate technologies into an integrated cooperative enterprise.
To accomplish these goals, our project goals include the following:
- Setting up our C.C.C. (Community Conservation Centre) as an information centre for the public interested in all aspects of urban gardening and farming.
- Make contact with and sponsor a wide variety of community garden projects based around already established groups: schools, churches, senior citizens groups, rotary clubs etc.
- Organize a series of media packages to encourage urban agriculture through:
- information sheets via the mail;
- talks and media demonstrations at libraries, church groups, schools etc.;
- articles in local community newspapers;
- info packages in garden shops etc.;
- Carry out basic research to gather data to solidify and justify connections between energy savings, the conserver mentality, cost savings and urban agriculture.
- Build a body of people contacts and information to prepare for funding proposals and support to carry out the project after expiration of this contract.
In order to reach a larger audience, the VCCC staff decided to publish and distribute a newspaper. The first issue of City Farmer Newspaper came out in August, 1978. The staff included Patsi McMurchy, Mike Levenston, Kerry Banks, Terry Glavin, Cathie McLean, Anne McLean, Dana Weber, Ann Bishop, Michael Wild, Lou Nelson, Risa Smith, Bob Woodsworth, and Nancy McRitchie
In his final report to his superiors in Ottawa, Dana Weber, VCCC Project Leader gave a description of how City Farmer came about. This is a brief extract from the much longer report.
Final Report Extract
September 8, 1978
Urban food raising:
Since this became, toward the end of the project, the centre's highest-profile activity, perhaps it would be useful to set it in some kind of context. Urban agriculture, specifically, isn't mentioned in any of our early plans. What we did realize, from the outset, however, is that Vancouver is the Province's primary energy user, and it was pointed out as early as the project-leader training session that rural areas bitterly resented the environmental costs they had to pay so that the metropolis could have energy. The Vancouver CCC, therefore, ought to concentrate on ways of changing end-use patterns in the urban area.
Bob Woodsworth joined the project and one of his main areas of interest was energy use in the food system. In the course of exploring this issue he and Michael Levenston assembled a fair amount of information about solar greenhouses. At this time California lettuce was selling in Vancouver for $1.19 a head. Lorne Parton wrote a column about growing your own all year round in a (conventionally heated) greenhouse. Bob and Michael wrote back extolling the virtues and economics of solar greenhouses, and the ensuing dialogue in the Province (newspaper) resulted in a great number of requests for information on greenhouses. They assembled a package of information which included a bibliography, instructions and a study and design done by Brace Research. It began to look as though food raising and related energy use was an issue that might capture public imagination.
15% of Canada's energy is used to put food on our tables. Energy is used everywhere in the food system from preparing the soil with fertilizers to cooking meals on the stove. Urban agriculture, the raising of food in the city by city dwellers saves energy used in the food system. Transportation costs are removed and labour intensive methods of cultivation conserve fossil fuels. Metropolitan Vancouver has a population of 1,172,000. Many of these people grow some of their own food, but many more don't though they have front and back lawns or balcony space at their disposal.
Note: We tried to use urban gardening as an entry vehicle for discussing the whole range of energy conservation (ie. Lawnmowers as unnecessary gadgets; labour intensive activity linked to bicycles etc.)
By July some of us at the Vancouver Centre conceived of a newspaper that would deal with the subject of urban food production from an energy conservation point of view. The first issue came out at the end of July and the second at the end of August. Both received a very positive response.
The paper attempts to interest the public by showing them examples of successful Vancouver city farmers. It also reports on political issues that affect city farmers (there has been a great deal of controversy lately about a particular woman in Vancouver who raises chickens in defiance of city by-laws), and products and information that are of use to them.
Using our own medium gives us somewhat better quality feedback, and that is one reason we started City Farmer. The response to it has been excellent. Our subscription list after one issue (2000 distributed) stood at 70, so there will be future issues, continued funding or not.
Vancouver has a unique climate in Canada for producing food, and therefore, the articles are written with the use of local research. This is a point which Eastern Canadians, designers of federal programs in particular, might do well to note. City Farmer succeeded because it addressed issues which were relevent to Vancouverites, and adapted the overall theme of energy conservation to meet local concerns. Certainly, people were also interested in things like home insulation, but in this climate it did not inspire people the way it might in Eastern Canada. City Farmer will continue and break even on the cost of production using volunteer labour. It may at some time pay an editor although this isn't envisaged in the immediate future.
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