Urban agriculture moves into the mainstream
Michael Levenston, an early advocate of urban agriculture, in Kitsilano’s City Farmer demonstration garden. Photo by Doug Shanks.
Vancouver’s urban agriculture
By Jackie Wong
While urban agriculture may appear to be a relatively new trend in Vancouver, everybody knows that people have been growing their own food for centuries. One crucial development, however, is that the City of Vancouver is now providing more municipal-level infrastructure for people to grow their own food, dispose of food waste, and learn about food-security issues. The City marks this year’s Earth Day (Apr. 22) by making it the launch date for a new curbside compost pick-up program, which is initially restricted to homeowners but will expand in the future to include apartments and businesses.
On a somewhat related note, council approved a new policy earlier this month that allows Vancouver residents to keep backyard hens. While that issue spurred naysaying from some members of the media and the general public, it’s old hat for Michael Levenston, who penned the first article on the backyard-hen debate for City Farmer magazine in 1978. “It was [about] a woman in trouble for raising chickens in her backyard. A protest went to City Hall, and, of course, the woman lost her bid to keep them,” Levenston told WE in a phone interview from his Kitsilano office.
City council’s recent decision to approve backyard hens, Levenston says, marks an ideological shift that proves urban agriculture has moved from the fringes to the centre of mainstream thinking. “We [City Farmer] went from being the fringiest of the fringe to a group that speaks the same language as our educators, our leaders in universities, our leaders in politics,” he says. “In the end, it’s the same thing that our ancestors did: It’s growing food close to where we live, in backyards, to help feed ourselves.”
City Farmer magazine is now defunct, but in the mid-’90s Levenston launched the first blog on city farming, CityFarmer.org. He continues to write about urban agriculture at the website CityFarmer.info, as well as maintain the City Farmer demonstration garden at Maple and 6th. Designed to help educate the public on how to grow their own food, Levenston believes the garden has played a significant role in showing the benefits of urban agriculture. “It gives some strength and positive feeling to communities to know that there’s something we can do [for the environment],” he says. “You don’t have to feel defeated… There’s something you can do to improve things.”
There’s still room for improvement, though. According to Vancouver city councillor Andrea Reimer, the Greenest City Action Team (an initiative developed by Mayor Gregor Robertson in early 2009) has a goal of decreasing Vancouver’s food-related carbon footprint by 33 per cent over the next decade. By extension, the City is increasing its support for composting initiatives, community gardens, and farmers’ markets, matching already strong support from the public. “We have way more people who want to access community gardens than we have community gardens right now,” Reimer admits. “If anything, we’re lagging behind the public now, not ahead of them.”