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

City Farmer History


Vancouver Demonstration Food Garden

In its fourth year of operation the Demo Garden came under the direction of Chris Ferris, Catherine Shapiro's friend, a master gardener from Lasqueti Island. Building upon Catherine's efforts Chris was fortunate to be able to labour under the sunniest summer skies we have seen so far.

Students came to learn from Chris every Monday and were rewarded with both horticultural knowledge and a portion of a bountiful harvest. Catherine also gave workshops in spring and summer on specific topics.

At 1east fifteen, important, media visits took place this year which resulted in greater public interest in urban food production. Perfect organically grown produce was always on display at our garden. During the pesticide scares involving watermelons and cucumbers, the media was interested in our methods of pest control and Founding Director Risa Smith was interviewed numerous times for her views on this topic.

A special series of "Information Sheets" will be published in 1986 to translate our experience in the garden to the general public.

School Garden Program

Vancouver schools were invited to bring their students to visit the Demo Garden in 1985. Students were taught both in the classroom and outside around the raised beds.

In the summer, City Farmer was invited by the West End Playground Society to help develop a food garden at Lord Roberts Elementary School. The playground is being completely redeveloped. In the fall of 1985, City Farmer spoke to over 200 students in their classrooms at Lord Roberts to prepare them for spring planting outside the following spring. Teachers have been introduced to curriculum materials that relate urban agriculture to their life science course materials.

In March of 1986 the school garden will be constructed and students will take part in planting and caring for the food plants. Teachers will incorporate curriculum materials into their classes so that the garden will become a permanent feature at Lord Roberts. We believe that this pilot project will spread to other schools in Vancouver and across Canada.

Strathcona Community Garden

In the spring of 1985 City Farmer secured a two-year lease from the Parks Board for 3.6 acres of vacant, East End land on Prior Street. Leslie Scrimshaw, a paid employee of City Farmer from February 4, 1985 to February 27, 1986 organized the community and began the process of designing the garden and improving the soil. As has happened with our Demo Garden, this project attracted lots of media attention. Though food was not produced at the community garden in 1985 it is hoped that crops will be planted in 1986. The administration and direction of this project has been turned over to the local community which is now in the process of setting up its own non-profit society.

In all City Farmer contributed five months of original planning (September, 1984 to January, 1985) for the community garden, a further twelve months of paid salary for a coordinator, (see above) and various capital expenses at a cost of about $20,000.

Manhattan Coop Rooftop Garden

UBC landscape architecture students prepared designs for an expansion of the rooftop garden on the Manhattan in the spring of 1985. Members of the Coop were inspired to take part in the planning and fundraising for the garden, however completion of this project awaits further funding to pay for decking the whole roof.

Publicity for this project encouraged a number of other city co-ops to consider setting up their own rooftop gardens.

Promotion of Urban Agriculture

During 1985 City Farmer's name reached more and more people, not only via current projects but also through lectures, consulting, published materials, and other promotional activities.

A very popular colour poster titled "Urban Gardens" was published by City Farmer with the help of Environment Canada. Requests come from all over the world for copies of it.

For the first time a book on Canadian agriculture has included a thoughtful, positive section on the merits of urban agriculture. More than three pages of Down to Earth 'The Crisis in Canadian Farming' by Carole Giangrande are devoted to the work of City Farmer.

Numerous international directories listed us last year including the 'Directory of Sustainable Agriculture and Horticulture Organizations' the 'International Directory of Urban Self-Reliance - United Nations University' and the 'League for International Food Education.'

Our library continues to receive the latest reference materials most of which are not available anywhere else in the city. The City Farmer office is open to the public five days a week, fifty-two weeks of the year.

Article on the Manhattan Roof Garden

Green Fingers Upon The Roof

By Joanne Blain
Vancouver Sun, June 8, 1985

The greening of the concrete jungle has begun.

On the roof of the Manhattan apartments at Robson and Thurlow in Vancouver, tulips and daffodils now compete for attention with the urban skyline. Later, in the summer, residents of the building will feast on vegetables and herbs grown in large wooden boxes.

Although the residents themselves tend the garden, a non-profit organization called City Farmer got the project going. The Manhattan garden is one of several innovative undertakings of the seven-year-old group, which was set up to help urban residents grow food.

A demonstration food garden at Sixth and Maple, started in the fall of 1981, is used to show city dwellers, how a small space can be used for intensive year-round food production.

New projects still in the planning stage are a community garden in Chinatown, for which the group has just received a parcel of land on a two-year lease from the city parks board, and a display garden at the University of B.C. to demonstrate how different ethnic groups grow food.

The Manhattan building, which was built in 1907, became a co-op after it was saved from demolition 1979. Residents of the building came up with the idea of a rooftop garden about a year ago and approached City Farmer for help.

From there, the idea mushroomed. The city's planning department asked City Farmer to develop it as a centennial project. A Canada Works grant came through to pay for two City Farmer staff members to work on the garden.

However, the co-op has to raise the cost of materials to complete the garden on its own.

City Farmer's community garden coordinator, Leslie Scrimshaw, became personally involved in the project. While it was still in the planning stages, she became a resident of the Manhattan.

Scrimshaw says urban dwellers should take advantage of any opportunity to bring some greenery into their surroundings. This is what the Manhattan's rooftop garden does.

Right now, the garden is in its infancy. Part of the roof is covered in wooden decking. Wooden boxes and barrels housing flowers and herbs are grouped in random clusters.

Eventually, the entire roof will be decked to protect the roof membrane. And co-op members are now looking at several designs for the layout of the garden, put together by UBC landscape architecture students.

The students' designs range from ambitious ones which include orchards and hot tubs to simpler ones that make good use of the space and provide open areas for the residents of the building to enjoy.

Scrimshaw says residents will put some of these ideas to use when deciding how to lay out the garden.

The design chosen will be flexible enough to allow the roof to serve a number of different uses, and to be adapted to fit future needs. "As new people move in, the garden can change and grow to suit them," she says.

Right now, the process of deciding what to grow is under way. In addition to salad greens and vegetables, Scrimshaw says they may try to grow exotic produce such as kiwi fruit to see if it can be done successfully.

Already, co-op members are enthusiastic about the garden. The Manhattan has few common areas for residents to get together, so the roof has quickly become a social centre.

"It's an oasis. I come up here at least once a day, even if it's raining," says resident Don Allison. Other residents regularly bring their meals up to the roof.

The garden will also be a bonus for workers and residents of surrounding highrises, who until now have had to look out on to a desolate, gravel-covered rooftop.

"The Manhattan was the perfect place to try out the concept of a rooftop garden", Scrimshaw says. "The roof is easily accessible, and building height restrictions in the area mean it gets a day-long source of light, which is unusual in an urban setting.

Residents of the building already work together to maintain the building, so working on a garden is a natural extension of this.

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Revised Sunday, June 6, 1999

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture