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Fascinating history of Vancouver’s Chinese ‘City’ Farmers


Covered Roots: The History of Vancouver’s Chinese Farms

Video visits Chinese Canadian farmers

Produced by: Chinese Canadian Stories (www.chinesecanadian.ubc.ca).
Created by: Alejandro Yoshizawa and Wendy Phung.
2012

Less that 100 years ago, ‘eating local’ was not a luxury but a reality. So who fed Vancouver? Discover the little-know history of Chinese farms in the Vancouver area, as told by the farming families themselves. Includes rare photos and old family videos.

Comment on the film by:

Dr. Art Bomke
Faculty of Land and Food Systems
University of British Columbia
Active 1973-1911

I found the film to be interesting and informative, especially about the role of Chinese-Canadians in BC agriculture and their struggles against racism and prejudice. Agriculture in this province has been revitalized by waves of immigrants, of which, the Chinese were major players. This was partly because they had few other opportunities, but also because they were good at it and hard working. The latter trait would have been common to most farmers, not just Chinese. By the 1990s, the Indo-Canadian wave of immigration wave had replaced the Chinese in the newest regeneration of BC agriculture.

I felt a bit misled by the title which implied that we were going to learn about Chinese farming in Vancouver, when the bulk of the story focused on the Cloverdale and Burnaby Big Bend areas. The documentary addressed this somewhat by the piece on the Chinese farmers on the Musqueam Reserve. This is an important piece of the history of Vancouver agriculture and I was hungry for more on the Chinese market gardens that extended from the Musqueam Reserve to Burnaby along the south slopes of Vancouver. That story remains to be told. Note that the Cloverdale and Burnaby Big Bend Chinese farmers were on peat soils, unlike upland Vancouver farms on their coarse textured mineral soils, ala UBC Farm. As late at the 1980s and 90s, Ministry of Agriculture extension literature for vegetable crops in these areas was communicated in both English and Chinese.

Two other comments from the film were instructive. The first one was that the early Chinese farmers were “organic”, but after the second world war, they were pressured to use more chemicals by the agribusiness dealers who provided their seeds. In one way or another, this is what happened to most of North American agriculture in that era, especially intensive horticulture.

Lastly and quite applicable to Vancouver urban farmers was the comment by one of the younger generation of Chinese farmers/descendants that he had learned all sorts of skills; plumbing, wiring, mechanics, carpentry, etc on the farm. Non-farming youth often have much less opportunity to learn these practical skills and, hence, are less prepared for other lines of work than farm youth. Included in this skill set is the ability to solve problems of all kinds, often with minimal $ and resources. I see this kind of skill development happening with present day urban and other small scale farmers. It should lead to greater self confidence as young people pursue farming or other occupations.

Link to Vancouver Chinese Farms today.

More farms here.

Also see this thesis: Parallel Alternatives: Chinese-Canadian Farmers and the Vancouver Local Food Movement by Natalie Ruth Gibb, 2011.