by Claudia Chan | You’ve probably taken notice to the appearance of 3,000 some odd planter boxes in the parking lot below the Georgia Street Viaducts since the last year, or the lush green garden that sits next to the Astoria Hotel on East Hastings. There’s also another site of green things growing by the train tracks under the First Avenue bridge at Clark. And more are coming. SOLEfood – the project behind it all – seeks to gain more ground by borrowing abandoned spaces (parking lots and former gas stations) on three-year leases and transforming them into viable urban farming sites. In the next year, they look forward to acquiring new territory by Main & Terminal and around False Creek.
As part of its vision to revitalize the Downtown Eastside, SOLEfood is a not-for-profit social enterprise that provides gainful employment for inner-city residents. Currently, they have 20 apprentice farmers from the neighbourhood who are learning to seed, harvest, prune, clean, and water the various sites alongside expert farmer/writer Michael Ableman.
How did it all get started? In 2008, one of the founding members of the Young Agrarians, a fellow named Seann Dory, was working as the Manager of Sustainability with United We Can, the umbrella organization overseeing many different projects that help create jobs for people with barriers to traditional employment (such as mental illness and addiction). Seann contacted Michael, hoping to receive practical help to launching SOLEfood. Michael told him that he would attend just one meeting.
Convinced of its viability and worth after just that one meeting, Michael has since been hopping on a seaplane twice a week between Foxglove Farm (his home on Salt Spring Island) and Vancouver. With the support of the Greenest City Grant, the Vancity Envirofund, local philanthropists and various businesses, he and Seann have created the largest urban farming project in the city. And as we’ve seen, it’s been making a difference.
With a sustainable food systems model in place, SOLEfood is making a strong case for hyper-local food. By employing local residents, growing food in our own neighbourhoods, and distributing produce to some of our favourite restaurants, they’re leaving a close to zero carbon footprint. They now have an extensive selection of organic produce that includes strawberries, chard, kale, corn salad, spinach, arugula, tomatoes, peppers, beans, herbs and, more recently, rice on raised beds!
Where can you find the stuff? SOLEfood products are available at the various Farmer’s Markets in town as well as at many local restaurants (Acorn, Harvest, The Irish Heather Gastropub, Judas Goat Taberna, Salt Tasting Room, Bitter, and more). You can also support the project by participating in their Community Supported Agriculture program. As a member, you choose to pre-pay a certain amount for the produce you’d like to receive. If you’re just curious, you can always peek in at one of their farms – rain or shine – and say hello to the folks greening their thumbs.
For more information about SOLEfood, visit 1sole.wordpress.com.
Claudia Chan is an advocate of all things green. Born and raised in Vancouver, she is inspired by the work of local urban farmers, eco artists and policy makers who make this city the most lush and livable to work and play in. Her mission with Scout and her “Greenlight” column is to impart her enthusiasm for bike lanes, community gardens, farmers’ markets and more to her fellow Vancouverites.