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Entries in Urban Agriculture (25)

Monday
Jul152013

Sunday Garden Tour: July 14, 2013

First of all, it's exciting to see so many new "likes" coming in from Japan and Korea on Food and the City's Facebook Page. I have a feeling that these translated editions of Food and the City must be hitting the shelves in those two countries. So, for my urban ag friends in Korea and Japan, a huge welcome. I'd love to see what you are doing in your communities. Please send me your photos and stories and I'll be sure to post and link to your sites here. Also, I'm starting to use Google+ and I've set up a Food and the City Google+ page. How many people would prefer this to Facebook? I would love to know.

The summer weather has finally hit here in the Okanagan. That means hot days (around 30 C), and dry (it's a semi-arid zone, with a huge lake and other smaller other lakes). It's perfect for plants like lavender, grapes, tomatoes, and hopefully eggplant. I have tried to grow eggplant from seed and it never really works out. This year, I bought two healthy seedlings of Turkish orange eggplant. They seem to be producing fruit, but the plants don't look particularly healthy.

Anyway, here are some video of the lavender field, which hums with our neighbour's honeybees, wild bumblebees and other pollinators.

Sunday Garden Tour Naramata July 14 2013 - Veggie and herb beds from foodgirl.ca on Vimeo.

 

Lavender and honeybee tv in Naramata garden / foodgirl.ca / July 14, 2013 from foodgirl.ca on Vimeo.

 

Tuesday
May282013

Are you an urban homesteader?

 

On Wed, May 22, I participated in an interesting radio program on KUER in Salt Lake City to discuss the rise of urban homesteading. It was a good investigation into this trend: Is urban homesteading really a type of homesteading? What does it mean to be an urban homesteader? What is pushing this trend?

I was one of three guests. Also on the show was Jonathon Krausert, a board member of Wasatch Community Gardens. He produces 85% of his families produce on his one-eighth-of-an-acre property in Salt Lake City.The other panelist was Carly Gillespie, Community Educator at Wasatch Community Gardens and an urban homesteader. On the show, she uttered a brilliant soundbite: "DIY ADD."

The live-program, RadioWest, on KUER, was a call-in-type show and I absolutely loved hearing from people at all stages of growing food, keeping bees or raising chickens on whatever land they have access to. It sounds like Salt Lake City has a supportive municipal government and that the bylaws are not obstructive to those wanting to get back to the land in the city.

Click here for the full hour-long broadcast, now posted on the KUER RadioWest site.

More resources:

Sustainablog's "Top Five US Cities for Urban Homesteading."

Shovel and Fork - Hands-on DIY beekepping, chicken keeping, cob-oven building, butchery, pickling, and cooking classes for the urban homestead set.

 

Wednesday
Mar062013

The Future of Urban Agriculture in the Alberta Capital Region

On February 12, 2013, I was one of three speakers at a presentation called The Future of Urban Agriculture in the Alberta Capital Region. It was part of the Regional Planning Speakers Series, The City Region Studies Centre.

The event was really well attended, the Alberta Art Gallery theatre was full! Regional Planning Speakers Series has just uploaded the podcast and slides from the event. So if you want to take a listen, here's the intro and the link.

 

"This event, held on February 12 2013, was forward thinking in nature. It looked at the future of urban agriculture in the Alberta Capital Region: What does it look like ? What are the implications on land – use planning? On the economy?  On policy making ? These and other issues were discussed by our panelists, Jennifer Cockrall - King (Edmonton based food Author and blogger), Candace Vanin (Agrologist, Government of Canada) and Dustin Bajer (teacher at Jasper Place High School and permaculture expert)."

Click here to go to the City Region Studies' page where the slideshows from this evening are archived.

Monday
Oct012012

#YEGfoodag: A draft response to the draft report of the Edmonton Food and Ag Strategy Project

Like many other municipalities around the world, Edmonton, my hometown, has been grappling with a food and urban agriculture strategy. This has largely been in response to vocal and widespread interest by a cross-section of citizens the 30-year Municipal Development Plan (MDP) The Way We Grow (finalized on May 26, 2010) which contains policies on food and urban agriculture. In brief, it was an important amendment to the MDP that food security and the desires of Edmontonians to maintain and encourage local food be taken into account when making certain key planning decisions.

A Food and Agriculture Project was created under the City of Edmonton in late 2011. And it was tasked with some rather ambitious targets:

Food Policy Council and City-Wide Food and Agriculture Strategy Schedule


2011

2011

2012

2012

2012


Jul- Sept

Oct- Dec

Jan - Mar

Apr- June

July- Sept

Confirm Terms of Reference for Project

X





Broad Public Engagement (ongoing)

X

X

X

X


Food Organization Engagement (ongoing)

X

X

X

X


Government and Institution Engagement

X

X

X

X


CWF&A Policy Development – City-wide analysis


X

X

X


CWF&A Policy Development - Peri-urban


X

X

X


CWF&A - Urban Growth Areas ASPs




X


Overall Policy Development and Public Participation



X

X


CWF&A – Strategy Consolidation




X

X

Food Policy Council Work


X

X

X

X

Final Draft at Council





X

(Source: Food-and-Urban-Ag-Project-Terms-of-Reference-1.pdf / City of Edmonton)

The timeline was short and many felt there was a strange pressure to move forward to settle this issue that crept into the discussion of how Edmonton should grow (economically and spacially). There was a Food in the City conference in May 2012, public consultations, and work by an Advisory Committee of stakeholders from various interests including developers, urban farmers, food system experts and community groups. Today, the Advisory Committee released a draft of the City Wide Food and Agriculture Strategy to the public.

I have just finished reading “fresh: Edmonton’s Food and Urban Agriculture Strategy Version 3, September 30, 2012.” At no point in this process was I consulted by the City, their consultants HB Lanarc or the Advisory Committee (curiously), so this is “fresh” reaction to a brand new document. That said, it is a carefully considered one informed by several years of immersion in urban agriculture research and travel to some of the cities at the forefront of creating urban agriculture opportunities in their communities.

Overall, the document was more of a reference guide than a strategy. It outlines what is happening in many other cities where people are interested in providing more opportunity for urban agriculture and local foods. The language is vague in a city (Edmonton) that has so many specific assets already in place: generations of urban farmers / market gardeners who know the ins and outs of producing local food for Edmontonians; an existing local food scene with well-established distribution nodes such as farmers’ markets and a grocery chains that carry some locally grown- and produced-foods (Wild Earth, Safeway, Family Foods, Save-On, etc.); and existing citizen groups working to promote and educate Edmontonians about locally grown- and produced-foods. Is this what happens when reports are written by consultants that have only a working knowledge of the city after a few short visits? Surely the expertise on the Advisory Committee could have provided some of this information?

There are two glaring omissions that I would hope can still be incorporated into this document. This is the purpose, afterall, for today’s release of the draft of the document as well as the Special Executive Committee Non-statutory Public Hearing on Friday, October 26, 2012. (Citizens who wish to speak at the Public Hearing can register in advance online and by phone 780-496-8178, or in person the day of the meeting.)

 Photo B9021 appears courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta "Vegetables from Donald Ross's Vegetable Garden Edmonton (1902)

The first omission is that we, as a city are failing to boast about our legacy of continuous urban food production that dates all the way back to the turn of the 20th century. We have had generations of market gardeners growing an eye-popping variety of fresh, local vegetables right in the city starting with Donald Ross’ Market Garden in the downtown river valley and continuing on today with young urban farmers like Janelle and Aaron Herbert of Riverbend Gardens. Riverbend, one of several successful family farming operations inside the city limits, maintains 120 acres of farmable land and grows over 20 types of vegetables for seven farmers markets in the Greater Edmonton Area. We have community gardens that date back to the Victory Gardens movement in the 1940s. We have an incredible resource of knowledge capital that was not even mentioned. Instead the report keeps referring to “the emerging practice and profession of urban farming” (p. 48). Why would we not reward and support proven successful farming entrepreneurs who are succeeding despite the pressures of globalization and lack of local permanent retail infrastructure, other than the ones I have mentioned above?

The second omission relates to the first – that is the economic contribution that the existing urban food producers and market producers already contribute to the economy of the city. First and foremost, producing food is a viable and sustainable economic activity. It seems to be treated more as a cultural need in this document (it is that as well, but it already contributes to our local economy). I would have liked to have seen studies and statistics presented on the dollars created in Edmonton through the production and vending of local foods. I would recommend adding “urban farming” to the Peri-urban column on page 11, as well as sub-acre urban farming to the Urban column on the same page. Let’s acknowledge that food is an engine of economic growth and prosperity. It’s a job-creator and we can eat the by-products.

There are some positives to the report as well. The Advisory Committee recommends the establishment of an Edmonton Food Council (EFC) in section 5.1 (pages 24-26). The report recommends providing “appropriate supporting resources to the EFC, which might include: i. At least one full-time staff position to support the EFC.
ii. An operating budget and clerical support for meetings.” That would be a very good step.

The report also identifies that the “City of Edmonton has an opportunity to lead by example by setting a local food purchasing policy. This could encourage other large organizations, like educational institutions, hospitals, and large corporations to follow suit, thereby creating a significant impact on local food demand.” (page 39)

Finally, there seems to be reluctant mention of the hot-button issue of the question of whether or not to protect / preserve tracts of prime agricultural land from other types of development (let’s not forget that agriculture is a type of landuse like any other…it is not undeveloped just because it is being farmed, and farmers pay taxes like other landowners) at the tail-end of this report. Really, this might be the most important element of the document.

The contention and lack of agreement over how to address this issue is written all over this final section of the report: Section 5.9 “Integrate Land for Agriculture.” (Even the title suggests that this will be a new use for land in Edmonton, instead of acknowledging that there is land already in use for agriculture. What we really are talking about, but fail to call it that, is Preserve Land for Agriculture!) The report acknowledges that “85% (n=55) participants at the stakeholder meeting believe that preserving land for agriculture in the Urban Growth Areas is a sound direction for Edmonton,” (p. 51 / Source: Stakeholder Groups Summary). While the Advisory Committee report refers to the fact that Edmonton is one of the few municipalities in Canada with prime agricultural land within its boundaries, it also refers to this as presenting “a range of complexities,” (page 51). Why is this a complexity rather than an opportunity? The choice of wording says it all! The fact that Edmonton is the envy of many cities around the world is a problem. And furthermore, the Advisory Committee fails to make any sort of recommendations about the issue that citizens who are engaged in this project feel most strongly about.

In the end, this is an advisory committee report that has failed to advise, but instead decided to outline the issues and leave the decisions to city councilors. In other words, Edmonton’s food and agriculture strategy is at a nascent stage and that is fine. These are complex issues. Perhaps, it was not wise to ask for answers when we’re really just starting to grasp the questions. More information needs to be gathered. More facts need to be considered. More time needs to be taken. 

I encourage everyone who can to read the report, consider the options and make your thoughts known to city hall. It’s apparent that this is where this issue will ultimately be decided, which is fine, as long as city councilors know how to proceed based on solid knowledge, and in keeping with the wishes and desires of their employers, the citizens of Edmonton.

 

Thursday
Sep132012

Closing the Food Gap / Panel discussion in Edmonton tonight

I have been asked to participate in a City of Edmonton The Way We Green Speakers Series called Closing the Food Gap. I will be one speaker on a panel of four. The other speakers are:

  • Mark Winne, food policy expert and atuhor of Closing the Food Gap (Beacon Press 2008) and Food Rebels, Guerilla Gardeners, and Smart Cookin’ Mamas (Beacon Press, 2010)
  • Kevin Kossowan, local food expert and urban homesteader, videographer and award-winning blogger at www.kevinkossowan.com
  • Kathryn Lennon - Volunteer Organizer, Multicultural Health Brokers Co-op

The panel will be moderated by Mack Male, social media expert and community action organizer

You can still register, it's free.

In preparation for the panel discussion, I am going to pop up some photos and some talking points. I won't have a slideshow presentation tonight, but many people in the audience will be holding their smartphones at the ready. I will likely touch on a few of these photos / points, but it's a free-flowing discussion. In other words, I'll post something more coherent here in the next day or so.

Photo B9021 appears courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta "Vegetables from Donald Ross's Vegetable Garden Edmonton (1902)"

The point of the above photo is that Edmonton has a long and successful history of urban gardening, both on a homescale and a commercial scale. Donald Ross sold his Edmonton-grown veg at the city market (he was an urban farmer, though he would have called himself a market gardener in 1902).

Photo B9028 appears courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta "W. Reeve's Tomatoes Edmonton"

And Edmonton has a century-long history of urban food production on a homescale and on vacant lots. During WWI and WWII, home food production and preservation peaked. And it remained "normal" to have a kitchen garden through the 1970s and 1980s. It's only in the 1990s that food gardening really dipped. It is now swinging back. The Edmonton Horticultural Society acted as the city of Edmonton's agent administering the vacant lots for food gardening from 1916 to the early 1990s. Here's a touch of the history and the staggering numbers of food gardens in Edmonton in those early years before the 50s. (Keep in mind the population of Edmonton was considerably lower than now, so the person-to-garden ratio was quite high.)

Until well into the 1950s the renting of vacant lots was one of the EHS's major programs. By 1924 the EHS had hired a full-time secretary to administer the program and, by 1930, the number of lots rented each year had increased from 200 (in 1916) to 2200. During the Great Depression hundreds of lots each year were allocated rent-free to citizens on relief. The EHS, in conjunction with the City's Special Relief Department, set up competitions for relief gardens which ran during the worst years of the depression. In the 1940s it was not unusual for the EHS to administer the rental of over 4000 lots per year but, over the next few decades, the numbers of lots available dwindled; in 1978 120 lots were rented.

                   --Kathryn Chase Merrett, http://www.edmontonhort.com/about/historyexpanded.php

And finally here's the cover of my maternal grandmother's copy of Victory Backyard Gardens (1942). It was a US government (Department of Agriculture) manual that was a standard reference even here in Canada for the Victory Gardens movement. In the 1940s, 40 percent of domestic fresh vegetables and fruit were produced in household victory gardens in the United States.