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


City Farmer History

We brought to Vancouver three individuals who have unique abilities in the field of urban agriculture.

William and Helga Olkowski are the founders of Integral Urban House in Berkeley, California and authors of the just released book about that house. They are also internationally known entomologists and pest control experts. They gave numerous media interviews when in Vancouver, gave a lecture to a packed house at VanDusen Gardens, and spoke to an invited group of City officials and aldermen at City Hall. They also lectured to a large group of professionals (federal, provincial, and private) at the G.V.R.D. (Greater Vancouver Regional District), and visited Community Alternatives a local housing cooperative.

The public was thrilled to learn about the Olkowski's work and City officials were particularly interested in the their Integrated Pest Management ideas.

John Jeavons is a master horticulturist from Palo Alto, California who uses energy-efficient techniques to produce maximum yields of food from intensively cultivated small plots of land. He spoke to the public at VanDusen Gardens and gave a full day workshop at the G.V.R.D. His C.B.C radio interview played nationally and requests for his book came from as far away as New Brunswick. Members of the G.V.R.D. were very interested in starting a Jeavons' research mini-farm here in Vancouver.

Canada's national newspaper wrote about our work as well.

City Farming Can Produce Tasty Food

By Anne Roberts
Special to The Globe and Mail
November 29, 1979

VANCOUVER - City residents yearning for farm fresh eggs and enough home-grown fruits and vegetables to feed the family all year round don't have to abandon urban convenience for a rustic life in the country.

Rather than heading back to the land outside the city limits, urban folk can become city farmers in their own front and back yards, in vacant city lots, on boulevard medians, on corporation's lawns and even on apartment building rooftops.

Once the city dweller gets beyond the notion that a vegetable garden is to occupy only a small corner of the backyard, patios and apartment balconies also can be eyed for their gardening possibilities.

And city farmers don't have to stop at fruits and vegetables in an effort to become self-sufficient. Instead of housing affectionate, but essentially useless, dogs and cats, chickens and ducks can supply both eggs and meat and rabbits can be an excellent source of protein.

If city farming seems not only impractical, but more trouble than it's worth, consider that, during World War II, residents of the Lower Mainland planted 52,000 Victory Gardens that produced 31,000 tons of fruits and vegetables. From yards, boulevard medians and tax sale lots, produce valued at $4-million was raised, the equivalent of more than $20-million today.

In an attempt to recreate and surpass that heyday of urban gardening, a small group of practitioners decided to publish a monthly tabloid called City Farmer to propagate information on intensive cultivation methods that can triple the size of the harvest, winter gardening to extend the growing season and keeping bees, chickens and rabbits to supply a wider variety of nutrients.

Edited by Roberts Woodsworth and Michael Levenston, the newspaper is attempting to be a clearinghouse of information for people entering the agricultural business.

Home gardening is appealing because of the fresh, nutritious produce and the satisfaction of tilling the soil, but the most attractive factor is the savings of at least 50 per cent on food costs, says Mr. Woodsworth, who also teaches political science at Vancouver Community College.

"There's other advantages as well - spin-offs such as energy saving," he says. "Now 15 per cent of all energy consumed in this country is for food production, for tractors and farm machinery, petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides and transportation. Home gardening could save two-thirds of those costs.

"And by recycling organic and yard wastes from each household into compost for the gardens, garbage collection and disposal costs are reduced," he continues. "In addition, homeowners can eliminate the cost and labour of maintaining green lawns," a cost he claims is between $25 and $50 for the average 2,000 square foot lawn.

To make major savings on food costs, gardening can't stop at the sign of the first frost, Mr. Levenston points out. A carefully planned planting schedule combined with the use of hardy varieties that can survive freezing temperatures enables a gardener to extend his season to ten months or longer on the balmy west coast, and at least six months in the rest of the country.

"Winter gardeners in Vancouver report digging leeks out of the ground with a crowbar in December," Mr. Levenston says. "Parsnips, Brussel sprouts, winter broccoli, kale, carrots, onions, and even some kinds of lettuce with only minimal protection can survive well into the winter. It's not the cold so much as the lack of light that is the problem."

Chinatown is held up as the model for city farmers. "More than 90 per cent of the homes in Chinatown garden nearly year round," Mr. Levenston says. "In October, they're planting broccoli to harvest in February or March."

For city farmers in the rest of the country, Mr. Levenston recommends passive solar greenhouses attached to houses to avoid the high price of winter produce.

All residents would benefit if municipal governments planted fruit and nut trees along city streets instead of non-productive elms and plane trees, Mr. Woodsworth says. "But city engineers think in terms keeping the streets clean and neat, not in terms food self-sufficiency."

Though Toronto allow residents to keep a limited number of chickens, Vancouver officials insist that poultry attracts rats and disease and has a foul smell. In a highly publicized move last year, the city council forced a welfare mother to get rid of the chickens she claimed were necessary to provide her children with an adequate diet on a welfare budget.

Mr. Levenston insists that dogs and cats pose more obnoxious problems than chickens "as long as you don't have a rooster that wakes the neighbors at five in the morning."

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Revised Saturday, June 5, 1999

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture