Most productive urban commercial farms located in Burnaby BC
Urban farmer tending his crops in Burnaby BC. See the larger image here. Photo by Michael Levenston.
Chinese market farms in the Big Bend area
Extremely productive Chinese market farms, (today’s urban agriculture ‘commercial’ farms) thrive in the City of Burnaby’s Big Bend area. You can drive along Marine Way today, through residential neighbourhoods, and stop at Sun Tai Sang Farm (4886 SE Marine Dr), Hop On Farms (5400 Marine Dr.), Wing Wong’s Nursery (4978 Marine Dr.) to buy both wonderful flowers and local vegetables. These farms and others in the area may be the longest running ‘commercial’ urban farms in North America. They are models of intensive growing that can boast more than 100 years of experience and success.
John Jeavons (California’s intensive farming guru), visiting City Farmer in 1979, was astonished at the productivity of these growers. Small, suburban homes are surrounded by neat rows of vegetables ready to go to market. A few old wooden houses remain; these would have seen this farming activity in the early 1900s.
The modern urban agriculture movement has a lot to learn from these hardworking farmers. (Burnaby is one or 21 municipalities in Greater Vancouver.) Mike Levenston
Fields of crops amongst urban homes. See larger image here. Photo by Michael Levenston.
Peat bog turned into prime agricultural land by Chinese
By Jim Wolf
City of Burnaby Planning Department, Heritage Planner
February 15, 1995
Burnaby’s largest historic district encompasses the broad flat peat bog bordering the north arm of the Fraser River.
Chinese farmers were attracted to the North Arm District in the 1890s leasing land from white owners to operate small market gardens. When selling their produce on New Westminster streets some enterprising Chinese pedlars proved to be fierce competitors despite wide discrimination against them.
The Whitling Brothers vegetable cart would be followed around town by competing Chinese firms who would endeavour to undersell to any potential customers who approached the Whitling’s wagon. Although these pedlars were attacked in the white press, their ancient farming methods always provided fascination for residents trained in western methods.
In 1894 some north arm Chinese farmers placed about 100 pigs of all sizes in a run of four acres of “bush-grown mossy land” and proved that small areas could be both cleared of vegetation and “abundantly fertilized”! By 1912, even the most conservative of local newspapers – The British Columbian – was forced to admit that burnaby’s Chinese farmers had turned “what was little better than a cranberry marsh into a richly productive area which is one of the most valuable assets to the municipality.”
Crops are grown right next to homes. See larger image here. Photo by Michael Levenston.
Agricultural Land Reserve Review Burnaby Big Bend Area 1986
The Big Bend Area of Burnaby has an agricultural heritage which spans several decades. The style of farming practised by the majority of farmers who are of Chinese descent, gives the area its unique character and vast number of market gardens. These market gardens are often family farms and their labour intensive methods have enabled them to produce a wide range of crops on small acreages with high per acre returns.
These highly productive market gardens contribute substantially to the economic base of the area as well as to the volume of Greater Vancouver’s fresh market sales. Practically all of the bunched vegetables in british Columbia come from the Big Bend Area. Altogether, at least thirty(30) different kids of vegetables are grown in the area, with productivity said to be twice that of the Cloverdale area. Blueberries and cranberries also have great potential for expansion into the area.
Old buildings still standing. See larger image here. Photo by Michael Levenston.
Women working in the ‘urban’ fields. See larger image here. Photo by Michael Levenston.
Visit the area of Burnaby