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New Vancouver urban farm built on asphalt parking lot

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Photo by Michael Levenston

Farm brings dirt without hurt to gritty Eastside

By CTV British Columbia’s Peter Grainger
Sat Oct. 31 2009

A pilot farming project in Canada’s poorest area code is bringing dirt – without the hurt – to Vancouver’s gritty Downtown Eastside.

Volunteers worked tirelessly Saturday to build a community garden. Although urban community gardens are becoming common sights across Metro Vancouver, the East Hastings Street location is quite different because it will be a fully functional farm once completed.

“They’ll be growing vegetables that will be sold to restaurants and the like in the Downtown Eastside,” Projects in Place Society’s Bryce Gauthier told CTV News.

It will also inject a dozen seasonal jobs into the poor neighbourhood.

Seann Dory, a project leader with United We Can, said the group is working with an idea called spin farming, where intensive growing is done in a relatively small space.

“So we’ll do multiple rotations so we can get as much produce out of this half acre as we possibly can,” he said.

The land has been donated on a renewable three-year lease from the Astoria Hotel, located right next door.

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Photo by Michael Levenston

Despite the good cheer of the urban farm’s first day, syringes, condoms — and even dead rats — visible on the ground are a constant reminder of the challenges ahead.

But this Downtown Eastside project is a seed of hope that should bear fruit — and vegetables — in one of Canada’s most troubled communities.

See video and article – Peter Grainger on gritty garden – here.

See Projects in Place web site here.

See United We Can web site here.

Downtown Eastside going green

Community Garden: Organizers hope project will create jobs

BY SUSAN LAZARUK
1 Nov 2009
The Province

Instead of paving paradise and putting up a parking lot, a group of volunteers covered up a parking lot Saturday with what they hope will be a little piece of paradise for Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

About 50 volunteers, working in the sunshine, drilled and hammered together hundreds of twoby-four wooden planks to build two dozen raised-bed planters on a former asphalt parking lot next to the Astoria Hotel on East Hastings.

The 1.2-by-3.6-metre planters were also filled 60 centimetres deep with rich, black soil, and will be used to grow vegetables in what organizers are calling a fully functioning urban vegetable farm on the empty five city lots that sit on the 1,400-square-metre site.

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Photo by Michael Levenston

Called SOLEfood, the garden is the brainchild of United We Can, a Downtown Eastside recycling depot run by and for those who collect recyclables, and Projects in Place, a non-profit spreading environmentally friendly projects such as green roofs around Vancouver.

The boxes will be planted in the spring and the produce sold at a local farmers market and to area restaurants and soup kitchens.

“It’s kind of like a local food movement is happening in Vancouver and this will definitely tap into that,” said Seann Dory of United We Can.

The garden will also collect organic waste from area restaurants for its composters, also built yesterday at the site, and sell compost as well.

United We Can is non-profit, but SOLEfood will run as a for-profit project, said Dory.

“We’re not looking to make a buck, but we’re looking to create jobs,” he said.

The garden will train locals with “employment barriers,” including those with drug addictions and mental disorders, to run the enterprise. The garden is expected to provide 12 part-time seasonal jobs, Dory said.

The project germinated in talks about “how to turn this area into a green hub of economic activity,” said Bryce Gauthier, founder of Projects in Place and designer for Sharp and Diamond Landscape Architects, a sponsor.

The land was donated by Astoria Hotel owners the Sahota family, for which they will receive a tax break on city property taxes, said Dory.

United We Can funds SOLEfood and various businesses and groups sponsor it, including Eco-Soil, which donated the truckload of soil, and designers and planners, who get involved to gain experience they may not be able to get in their paid jobs, Gauthier said.

A water supply, which may come from collected rainwater, still has to be worked out, he said.

The property, already fenced, will be filled with more planters by springtime.

Link to Province article here.

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Photo by Michael Levenston

Volunteers turn hotel parking lots into gardens

BY GRAEME WOOD
2 Nov 2009
VANCOUVER SUN

United We Can organizes program to train people and grow food for markets, community kitchens and restaurants

About 50 volunteers got behind wheelbarrows, shovels, and drills Saturday to begin construction of a new community garden in the Downtown Eastside.

The half-acre garden, located on East Hastings Street at Hawks Avenue, will provide food, job training, and education in urban agriculture for local residents, businesses, and community organizations starting next year.

The project was created by the charitable organization United We Can, with the help of numerous other non-profit groups and businesses. It is part of the charity’s Save Our Living Environment campaign.

“It’s pretty awesome to see the community come together, especially people from all walks of life to build a minifarm,” said Seann Dory, manager of sustainability at United We Can.

Only herbs and vegetables will be grown by hired workers, and a composting system will use food waste from local businesses. The garden will use smallplot intensive farming techniques to yield the maximum amount of produce.

Some of the produce will be sold to farmers’ markets and local restaurants, and some will be donated to community kitchens.

Among the volunteers was Richmond resident Marc Helson.

“Fresh produce in an urban area is a good idea. Nowadays we’re getting our food from so far away when we can get it from local farmers,” he said.

Helson lent his muscles as he transferred soil from a large mound of donated soil to garden boxes using a wheelbarrow.

Once construction is completed in about three months, there will be a total of 80 raised wooden garden boxes, about .6 metres high, 1.2 metres wide, and 3.6 metres long.

The garden replaces two empty dilapidated parking lots owned by the Astoria Hotel. The land was leased for three years to United We Can by owner Gudy Sahota.

“It beautifies the street and everyone enjoys it. It’s good to have some greenery,” said Sahota, who also donated cash to the project.

The partnership between the hotel and the community was made possible by Building Opportunities with Business (BOB), an inner-city non-profit organization aimed at creating business partnerships within the community and promoting corporate social responsibility.

When BOB and Sahota agreed on a low-rent lease, United We Can turned to another non-profit, Projects In Place Society, to oversee construction volunteers and the design of the mini-farm.

Brian Smith, a landscape architect intern, coordinated many of the donated items for the garden, such as soil, building materials, compost pallets and tools.

The 12 part-time employees tending to the plots will be recruited by BOB and trained by urban agriculture experts. They will be paid minimum wage, Dory said.

The work is designed to be flexible for people with disabilities, Dory added.

The same workers will also collect rotten food to make compost. They’ll use bicycles loaned to them by United We Can, which also loans bicycles to those collecting returnable containers for recycling.

“This training will not only teach inner-city residents about horticulture but the importance of healthy food and food security,” said Smith.

The workers will begin to take a leadership role in the next few months, and Dory hopes to consult with local residents and businesses about what kind of vegetables they’d like to see grown.

Controversial landlords donate land for ‘farm’

Downtown project includes 80 planter boxes

Janaya Fuller-Evans,
Special to Vancouver Courier
November 06, 2009

Two parking lots in the Downtown Eastside, and one of the city’s most controversial landlord families, are getting a facelift.

The heads of the Sahota family, Gurdyal and Pal Sahota, have leased a half-acre parcel of land, next to the Astoria Hotel on East Hastings Street, to United We Can for three years for a community farming project called SOLEfood.

They also made a cash donation to the project but would not disclose the amount. “We live there, we work there,” Gurdyal Sahota said of his decision to lease two parking lots, for free, for the project. “[It is good] if someone can have use of it.”

The lots are now home to 80 raised planter boxes, built by volunteers last weekend, which will be used to grow plants and herbs. The project will also teach 12 seasonal workers horticultural skills.

The Sahota family, last known to reside in Shaughnessy, owns a number of buildings in the Downtown Eastside, including the Balmoral, Cobalt and Regent hotels. The family has been the focus of many news stories on slumlords in the past, with tenants complaining about the dilapidated, rundown conditions of some of their buildings.

Past problems included a ceiling collapse in October 2007 at an apartment complex in the 2100 block of Pandora Street, and rotten balconies at 2178 Triumph in the spring of 2008.

But the family has been in business for a long time and gives housing to those in need, Sahota said.

“We’re OK with everybody [down there],” Sahota said. “Many people benefit from us.”

According to Sahota, his family is a part of the Downtown Eastside because they provide low-cost homes to impoverished people, no matter what the media reports about them.

“We have to do what we have to do,” Sahota said. “We run rooming for poor people.”

The nonprofit and community organizations involved in SOLEfood–specifically United We Can, Building Opportunities with Business (BOB) and Projects in Place–were initially concerned about the Sahotas’ involvement, according to Seann Dory, manager of sustainability for United We Can.

But working with Gurdyal Sahota for six months was a positive experience, he said. “I think he’s actually really trying to make a change in that image,” said Dory, who is the project leader. “He legitimately cares to do something for the community.”
The Sahotas deserve a chance to contribute to the DTES, he said.
“United We Can is all about second chances.”

United We Can is responsible for property taxes on the property for the three years of the free lease. Dory hopes B.C. Assessment will reassess the property as agricultural land, which would mean decreased taxes.

The reassessment could mean “a significant reduction in taxes,” according to city planner Kira Gerwing, who was involved in the planning for SOLEfood. Right now it is listed as a commercial property, with taxes of $50,000 annually, Gerwing said. “As agricultural land, it would go down to about $15,000 per year.”

She said the Sahota family was not a problem throughout the planning.
She was surprised to hear from staff at B.C. Assessment that any of the organizations involved were concerned about their reputation.
“The Sahotas have been quite positively involved.”

Link to Courier article here.