Building a Neighbourhood Food Network

“Building a Neighbourhood Food Network in Vancouver’s West End”
Some Thoughts (Draft, 10-May-2011, to be revised), by R Helten

E-mail: foodwestend@gmail.com

We all eat food every day. Certainly we could produce more in the city, even in highly urban communities like the West End. But what would that look like and what issues arise?

There is considerable media and public interest in sustainability, organic and healthy food, farmers markets, and the “100-mile diet.” Meanwhile, there are concerns about “peak oil,” food riots overseas, rising food prices, food safety and security, the impacts of food production on climate change, and the impacts of climate change on food production. These are all connected with food and our future, and affect people of all income levels in all communities.

Several communities in Vancouver have local networks of people to support the growing of food. Some are funded, some are entirely volunteer. Each is different. You will hear about them at the meeting.

Food is already being grown in West End back yards, on roof tops, on balconies, window sills, in school yards, in community gardens, and more. And some food is actually being manufactured in the West End. What is the potential for growing more food here? And if we were to consider the entire cycle of food we consume (raw materials, planting, growing, transporting, consuming, disposing, composting) here on this peninsula and with our West End population of over 46,000, what might we learn? There are many angles to this discussion, and everything is “on the table.” Let’s work together and see what can be accomplished.

Below are some thoughts and facts that might be useful in considering food issues in the West End. This document will be updated.

Please send comments and ideas to foodwestend@gmail.com

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Population and housing information in West End

  • This is a highly urban population of at least 46,000, about 8% (verify) of Vancouver, and more than individual populations of several municipalities in Metro Vancouver (larger than North Vancouver City, West Vancouver, Port Moody, Langley City, White Rock, and Pitt Meadows).
  • The population is living on a geographically discrete area of land, defined on four sides by Stanley Park, Burrard Inlet, English Bay, and the downtown business core.
  • The West End has more people than many metro Vancouver municipalities, including Langley City, North Vancouver City, Pitt Meadows, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, and White Rock and is about on par with New Westminster!
  • Access to the downtown peninsula (for transport of people, food, and materials, and removal of waste) is only by four bridges and one low-lying natural land bridge. In a disaster all bridge traffic could be stopped, and land travel may be difficult.
  • Housing forms are diverse:
  1. Perhaps 30 apartment towers (ranging 10 to 40 storeys, designed by zoning with setbacks from road and minimum 80 feet separation between towers, which leaves some light and landscaping space between them).
  2. Strata condominiums
  3. Leasehold buildings
  4. Coop apartment housing
  5. Seniors’ and government-assisted housing (BC Housing)
  6. Some single family dwellings, with small yards (and gardens)
  • The vast majority of people (over 80%) live in rental apartments. This, considering the fact that most other housing forms are also multi-unit dwellings, means that for most people the most immediate opportunity for food growing will be on window sills and balconies. But see below for more details.
  • Many immigrants from overseas may have experience with growing their own food.

Potential places for growing, gathering, securing food in West End

  • Community gardens: (1) Mole Hill housing complex, (2) Nelson Park Community Garden, (3) Stanley Park Community Garden (decorative plants only), (4) Davie Village Community Garden (Burrard and Davie: one more year), (5) A new one is being considered in what is now a parking lot at Sunset Beach (at the narrows before Burrard Bridge, at entrance to False Creek)
  • Balconies
  • Roof tops (apartments, strata condos, community centre, YWCA, YMCA, etc.)
  • Yards of single family dwellings, strata condominiums (limited common property),
  • Boulevards, dividers between road and sidewalk
  • Vertical spaces (fences, etc.)
  • School gardens (Lord Roberts Elementary, King George Secondary)
  • Landscaping on private land: Every year, some buildings here completely change their landscaping, but always install only decorative plants. Could be an opportunity to do a model project of installing edible landscaping (one of the key themes of the Vancouver Food Policy Council).
  • Garden plots on private land: Potential for private apartment owners (of buildings big and small) to provide plots beside their buildings for their own tenants. This may be a worthy pilot or model project that, if successful, could multiply. Need to work out rights and obligations of users and land owners.
  • Some trees growing here produce edible fruit and nuts. Could be harvested in an organized way. Future planting by the city could also be designed to include trees that produce edible food.
  • Future seafood potential? Some immigrants catch fish off the sea wall.

Considerations about growing conditions in West End, and the entire food cycle

  • West End was under ice 10,000 years ago, and thereafter, first nations used this land for millennia as a place to live and as a source of food.
  • After European arrival, the community gradually grew in size, and undoubtedly many of the homes here had gardens
  • In past two years, Green Millennium Foundation, with Village Vancouver and Edible Landscapes have organized a number of seminars and workshops. In Sept 2009, GMF held (with WERA) “100-Metre Diets, Gardens, and Food Security in the West End” (at Gordon Neighbourhood House). In Oct 2009, GMF/VV/EL held “Apartment & Container Gardening Workshop” (at WECC), and in April-June 2010, “Neighbourhood Food Growing, Sharing, and Preparedness” (at WECC).
  • Today, limited access to growing space may be the biggest constraint in the West End. At least, the conditions are quite different compared to most other parts of Vancouver.
  • For growing, next constraint may be complex sunlight conditions (due to shadowing of buildings), and microclimates. Certain food will simply not grow without enough cumulative sunlight hours.
  • Pilferage of gardens and crops is a concern
  • Pests (skunks, raccoons, etc.)
  • Soil quality
  • Composting is provided in West End only for single family dwellings (need to confirm). Does the City have plans to introduce composting for multi-unit buildings in the West End.
  • Some buildings may have their own composting activities going on, but very rare
  • Need to look at the entire food cycle on the peninsula here. Flow of food and food-growing supplies in, consumption, and waste.

Potential allies and players in West End

  • Vancouver Parks Board (governs several parks here, plus the West End Community Centre and annexes). Main governing body is the West End Community Centre Association (WECCA).
  • West End Residents’ Association (www.wera.bc.ca) involved directly or indirectly in several food projects, including YMCA rooftop garden (100 planter boxes, 20 plant beds), Stanley Park Community Garden, and Mole Hill, plus potential garden at Sunset Beach.
  • West End Neighbours (www.westendneighbours.ca)
  • West End Citizens Action Network (WECAN, http://wecan-vancouver.com)
  • Stanley Park Ecology Society (http://www.stanleyparkecology.ca/): a partner in the Stanley Park Community Garden
  • Communities associated with each community garden (see list above)
  • YMCA (has a rooftop garden) on Burrard St.: Contact – WERA
  • YWCA (has rooftop garden) on Hornby St..
    See http://www.ywcavan.org/content/YWCA_Vancouver_Rooftop_Food_Garden_/605
  • http://www.sharingbackyards.com
  • Commercial landscapers (probably 50 small firms work on landscaping in West End)
  • Condominium Home Owners’ Association (www.choa.bc.ca), could help with advice and publicity
  • Leaseholders Association
  • BC Apartment Owners Association, could help with communication
  • West End Business Improvement Association
  • Vancouver Board of Education
  • Lord Roberts elementary school has a school garden run by teachers for younger children during the school year. This was the first school garden in Vancouver.
  • West End Community Centre has a rooftop garden. Limited access, but worth discussing.
  • West End Farmer’s Market runs from spring to fall, located beside Nelson Park, on Comox Street. http://www.eatlocal.org
  • Farm Folk City Folk: The West end is definitely “city folk”
  • Capers Market has a strong community focus
  • Major sources of food coming in are Safeway (two locations), plus Capers, IGA, and No Frills.
  • Hardware stores (West End Hardware, and Little Hardware Store) sell gardening equipment. Some tools sold via about two or three dollar shops.
  • No major seed or plant supply stores are in walking distance. We are about to lose Art Knapps store on Hornby when it closes. Nearest large stores are Home Depot stores on Cambie, and on Terminal.
  • A number of registered Master Gardeners live in the West End

Please send comments and ideas to foodwestend@gmail.com

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