Planning cities as if food matters
North American society is at a stage when we are being challenged to blur the edges of urban jungle and rural landscape. Farmlands are disappearing while cities continue to expand. At the same time, food security is a growing concern and there is an increasing demand for locally grown food as a result of worldwide food shortages, increasing costs of transportation, rising food prices, rapid seafood depletion, and use of fertilizers and pesticides.
Vancouver is ideally suited to address this challenge as it has at least five significant parcels of arable land on rural/urban boundaries with commercial food production potential. To instigate the shift towards local food production in the Lower Mainland and to create awareness of this potential and the issues at hand, Peter Ladner, former Vancouver city councillor and mayoral candidate, began a Fellowship with Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Centre for Dialogue to deliver a conference series on food security called “Planning Cities as if Food Matters.”
Able to draw from six years of experience serving on the Vancouver city council and three years as vice-chair of the Metro Vancouver board of directors, Ladner has a unique combination of communication skills, political and business experience, and a passion for sustainable cities and growing plants. His knowledge of how municipal and regional planning decisions are made, and his role in the City of Vancouver’s initiative to add 2,010 new food producing community garden plots by 2010, gave him a background ideally suited for this project.
From 2009 to 2011, Ladner hosted eight conferences led by international thought leaders and practitioners of agricultural urbanism to advance a more sustainable food system in the Lower Mainland. The conferences were open to the public and linked to on-the-ground practitioners and policy-makers making decisions regarding food security and land use.
“Working Together to Strengthen Our Local Food System”, held by Richmond Food Security Society, attracted over 200 attendees from across the province and decided to double its workshop offering to facilitate demand. Following this workshop, Richmond Food Security Society and the City of Richmond selected six participants to farm a half-acre of land as a pilot “incubator farm”. Participants were chosen for the experience they gained from the workshop and the pilot increased local food production by 10,000 lbs. in 2011.
Another conference, “Growing Soil: Mid-scale Composting in the City”, had its 200 seat capacity filled within 48 hours, resulting in the event being web-streamed for those wishing to attend but unable to find seats. It was very engaging and educational, according to this attendee:
“I wanted to let you know that I thought it was extremely interesting and thought provoking, with great dialogue. At times I felt like I was at a hockey game – that a fight might break out at any moment as the presenters competed for the power play!” - Gayle Hunter, Blake, Cassels, & Graydon LLP
The impact of the conference series has been significant. Two meetings focused on the Regional Food System Strategy, a first step in creating a collaborative approach to sustainable, resilient and healthy food, helped ease the strategy’s passage by the Metro Vancouver board.
Will Allen, founder and CEO of Growing Power Inc., and widely considered the leading authority in urban agriculture, gave a talk to a full house at Vancouver’s Croatian Cultural Centre. His visit was instrumental in the swift formation of the Urban Farmers Network and the refinement of New City Market’s business plan (a physical place being designed to drive local food consumption and production).
Allen also visited SOLEfood Farm, a social enterprise that provides urban agriculture employment and training opportunities for Vancouver’s inner-city residents. SOLEfood is now expanding to include a large network of farms throughout the city. The group’s intent is to help revitalize neighbourhoods; provide meaningful employment to individuals with multiple challenges; supply fresh food to inner city residents; and present a successful self-supporting model of high quality, innovative agriculture within the urban context.
“Planning Cities as if Food Matters” certainly increased awareness of food security issues in the Lower Mainland. It also helped provide the impetus for further education, policy changes, and networking around local food sustainability. The connections made through this conference series have already resulted in new applications being made (with more forthcoming) for mid-scale compost operations in Greater Vancouver.
Reflecting on his fellowship with the SFU Centre for Dialogue, Ladner wrote the book, The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities, which discusses how to bring food production back to the local scale based on leading edge innovations across North America.
In 2009, the Real Estate Foundation provided the Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue with a $20,000 grant for the “Planning Cities as if Food Matters” conference series. This project aligns with our mandate to support land use focused education that contributes to more resilient, healthier BC communities.
By Sam Brown