SOLEfood Farm changes landscapes and lives in Vancouver, BC
It is a business like no other, whose primary goal is social, with a secondary aim to become a model for urban agriculture.
By Beverley Smith
The Globe and Mail
Nov. 20 2012
In 2009, the project’s first year, the farm grew 10,000 pounds of produce on its first half-acre lot, an incongruous site against the walls of the Astoria Hotel in the Downtown Eastside, a neighbourhood that is home to many of the city’s most disadvantaged.
To grow rainbow-coloured chard, pink radishes and giant onions that sprout from rich soil in moveable planting boxes, SOLEfood farm employs 25 disadvantaged people who can’t find traditional work because of drug addiction, poverty or mental illness.
This year the farm multiplied its first-year output by 10. It has grown about 100,000 pounds of exotic fruit and vegetables on top of unwanted, contaminated or paved ground in a city that puts the use of local food near the top of its goals to become the greenest city in the world by 2020. In doing so, SOLEfood Farm won a Brownie award this year for best large-scale use of brownfield land, a recognition from the Canadian Urban Institute.
Despite the rapid growth, however, the experience has shown Mr. Ableman that a social enterprise like SOLEfood cannot operate like other for-profit farms.
The five verdant sites are a marvel of innovative and intense agriculture production, and the idea of providing meaningful work and a lifeline to the disadvantaged is inspiring, but the finances of this social enterprise are enormously challenging.