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Census and Economics of Vancouver’s Urban Farms

Vegetable Vancouver 2010: An Urban Farming Census. See the two page flyer PDF here. (1.7 MB)

An Urban Farming Census – Project Description

By Marc Schutzbank, MSc. Candidate
University of British Columbia
November, 2010
Presented at the Vancouver Urban Farming Forum

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Price Index is at the highest level ever recorded. Wheat crops have failed in Russia and in China due to severe heat and draught. International food access issues are stirring local public and private responses, one of which is urban farming. To ascertain the community impacts of urban farming, I propose the development of an urban farming census to measure the economic, social and environmental outcomes of urban farming.

Vancouver’s Urban Farm Network: A Look into the Economics of Urban Farming. See the large poster here. (Large 5.3 MB

Many cities and municipalities are developing local food strategies that include provisions for local production and distribution of agricultural products. Entrepreneurs are developing businesses in the field of urban agriculture and thousands of gardens are being readied for next season. Yet, despite this interest and growth, there are no data available on specific yields, economic profit, social benefits or environmental impacts of urban farming in North America. I will address this lack of information by conducting a census of urban farms. Using Vancouver, BC as a test case, I will use the census to help elucidate both urban farming practices and their community impact. This tool will be exportable, to assist and encourage better accounting of urban farming in other communities. Measuring the impacts of sustainability initiatives like urban farming, can help decision makers target resources to the most effective programs. Results can drive future sustainability initiatives. I hypothesize that Vancouver’s urban farming promotes a wide range of community benefits; this census will evaluate my hypothesis.

Interest in local food continues to grow. Concerns of food safety and unease with international markets for agriculture are driving more customers to their local farmer’s markets and to their gardens. In 2008, Canadian farmers’ markets supported twenty-eight million shoppers, each spending thirty-two dollars per visit for a total economic impact between two and three billion dollars . In the United States, there has been a 250% increase in the number of farmers markets over the past fifteen years . Local food increasingly finds it way to the dinner table. Vancouver is no different.

Though many local farmers drive into the city from the surrounding areas, produce is readily available from expanding urban farmers. Urban farmers, unlike community gardeners, farm to make a living. They raise produce, grow ornamentals, extract honey, raise chickens and collect eggs to sell in their community. This year, 13 urban farms grew food for their community. Together, urban farmers have built an Urban Farmer’s Network to develop relationships, build community and understand the impacts of their work.

Working with the Urban Farming Network, the City of Vancouver and the University of British Columbia, I have conducted an urban farming census, which provides data on number of financial and social metrics: revenue gained, jobs provided, volunteer hours logged, and social benefits. These metrics, among others, were collected through individual interviews and surveys. In addition, I will be describing and modeling urban farm business operations. This will help give policy makers data to better develop legal frameworks for these programs and make best business practices available to current and future urban famers. Attached you will find my poster and flyer with information from the census.

Urban farmers seek to build our future around a vision of local production. During World War II, Victory Gardens provided 42% of fresh vegetables consumed in the United States. This vision is possible and already happening in Vancouver.

Vegetable Vancouver 2010: An Urban Farming Census. See the two page flyer PDF here. (1.7 MB)

Vancouver’s Urban Farm Network: A Look into the Economics of Urban Farming. See the large poster here. (Large 5.3 MB)

Also see: “Urban Farming by the Numbers” here. Dec 9, 2011

1 comment

1 Joanne { 11.28.11 at 11:42 pm }

This is a really great project. I’m going to research something similar for my thesis in the spring. I am really intrigued by urban farming and what it will mean for the future as our population continues to rise.