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Sustainable Urban Food Production in the City of Vancouver:

An Analytical and Strategy Framework for Planners and Decision-Makers


Written and researched by
Rob Barrs
Robert Barrs
School of Community & Regional Planning, UBC

References and Appendices are not included in this web version.
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Background

This report was written by Rob Barrs as a project for the UBC School of Community & Regional Planning. Professor Bill Rees was the school advisor.

Table of Contents

Executive Summary

Part I - Why Urban Agriculture

1. Introduction

1.1 Objective and structure of this report

1.2 A Discussion Of Sustainability As It Relates To Food And Agriculture

1.3 What is Urban Agriculture?

1.4 Problem Definition and Context: The need for Urban Agriculture in Canada

2. The Potential of Urban Agriculture to Address The Concerns of Sustainable Development

2.1 Environmental

2.2 Social

2.3 Economic

Part II - Pursuing Urban Agriculture

3. Utilizing All the Available Space in Cities?

3.1 Backyards

3.2 Community Gardens

3.3 Rooftop Gardens

3.4 Vertical Gardens

3.5 Street Trees/Orchards

3.6 Inside buildings

4. Turning Waste into Food

4.1 Solid Waste

4.2 Sewage and Waste-water

4.3 Re-using waste heat

5. Economic Incentives and Opportunities

5.1 Encouraging Job Creation

5.2 Capital and Credit

5.3 Making food affordable and accessible

5.4 Farmer's markets

5.5 Food distributing co-operatives

5.6 Local Exchange Trading Systems

6. Educational & Social Programs

6.1 Community Kitchens

6.2 Food labeling

6.3 School Curriculums

6.4 Demonstration Gardens

6.5 Vancouver Food Policy Organization

7. Sustainable Food Production Techniques and Approaches

7.1 Organic Agriculture

7.2 Edible Landscaping

7.3 Hydroponic Growing

7.4 Permaculture

8. How Much Of Our Food Can Be Produced In An Urban Setting?

8.1 Vegetables - Potential yields of different methods

9. Problems with Urban Agriculture

9.1 Land Availability

9.2 Uncertainties of Tenure

9.3 Lack of Economic Incentives

9.4 Contaminated land

9.5 Incompatible land uses

9.6 Perceptions

9.7 Policy/Regulatory Barriers

9.8 Theft and vandalism

9.9 Solar Access

9.10 Pollution

9.11 Lack of Skill

9.12 Availability of credit/capital

10. Conclusion & Recommendations for an Urban Agriculture Policy

10.1 Policies and System Catalysts

10.2 Regulations - bylaws

10.3 Projects

10.4 City Practice

10.5 Design Considerations

10.6 Research and Development

10.7 Education/Training

10.8 Financial

10.9 Marketing

10.10 Public Education

Table 2-1 Per Capita Ecological Footprint of Vancouver's Food Consumption

Table 3-1 Community Gardens in Vancouver

The following sections are not included in this web version.

11. Appendix A - Organizations Involved in Urban Food Production in the Vancouver Area
12. Appendix B - Glossary of Terms
13. Appendix C - Legislation, Policies and Guidelines Having a Bearing on The Growing of Food in Vancouver.
13.1 Agricultural Land Reserve
13.2 Clouds of Change Report
13.3 CityPlan
13.4 Greenways- Publicways (The final report of the Urban Landscape Task Force (May 1992) Greenways-Public Ways
13.5 Environmental Aims of COV - environmental report card.
13.6 Vancouver Park's Board Community Gardens Policy
13.7 Vancouver Park's Board Street Tree Guidelines
13.8 Environmental Health Regulations
14. References
Figure 3-1 Strathcona Community Gardens
Figure 3-2 community gardens in the Vancouver area
Figure 3-3 Example of recent rooftop garden design
Figure 3-4 Vertical garden concept
Figure 4-1 Over 30% of the Lower Mainland Waste Stream Contains Organic Material.
Figure 4-2 Greenhouse-Based Solar Aquatic Treatment System
Figure 4-3 Grey-water recycling system
Table 8-1 Yields of selected vegetables using different growing methods.


Sustainable Urban Food Production in the City of Vancouver


Executive Summary

This report looks at the potential for urban agriculture to contribute to the goal of sustainable development in the City of Vancouver. It examines, in matrix form, through the three related elements of sustainability (ecological, social and economic), the present issues related to our food supply, how urban agriculture might address these problems, and some of the instruments, techniques and approaches that are currently been used or could be used in the near future.

Although food production in cities has a long tradition in most parts of the world, the twentieth century has seen agriculture in industrialized nations become, almost exclusively, a rural activity as urban spaces have become more crowded, land prices have escalated, and transportation and storage technology have improved. Therefore a discussion of the subject of urban agriculture may seem an odd topic for a planning department. However, our current unsustainable patterns of consumption and waste, and persistent hunger and inadequate nutrition in one of the richest countries in the world, are forcing us to examine some new approaches. Urban agriculture could be one of these approaches that forms part of a new direction in food and nutrition policy - one that focuses on health, ecological integrity, job creation and the creation of complete communities .

Urban agriculture has the potential to make a significant contribution to the solution of many current urban problems that fall within the rubric of healthy communities and sustainable development. These include:

All these can be influenced in a profound way by the activity of food production in urban spaces. Add to that the increased freshness of locally produced food, lower transportation costs, dietary diversification, and responsiveness to local needs and the advantages of producing at least some of our food in cities becomes obvious. This is what makes the prospect of a city full of food gardens and overflowing with the bounty from urban greenhouses so exciting for Vancouver. Urban agriculture offers an immense opportunity to increase the welfare of all citizens and repair ecological damage and as we shall see a number of initiatives are already underway in this direction .

Food is a complex subject so no single approach is recommended here. A diversity of approaches at different scales is presented that fits the existing configuration of the city as a dense urban space. Rather than assigning large areas of expensive urban land to food growing this report looks at the potential to grow food in the interstitial and underutilized spaces of the city - it is a greening of the city that emerges from the cracks left in the contemporary asphalt.


Part I - Why Urban Agriculture?

1. Introduction

1.1 Objective and structure of this report

This report is being written because there appears to be a genuine desire, at the municipal level, to move towards a sustainable community. The City of Vancouver's Environmental Policy, adopted by Council on May 28th, 1996, states that "the City of Vancouver is committed to protecting and improving its natural environment by adhering to and promoting the principles of sustainability." Council has also resolved to make South-East False Creek a model sustainable community for 4000-6000 people. This raises many questions about what sustainability means for this site and how food production might be a part of that.

This report makes recommendations that may contribute towards a municipal urban agriculture policy and could guide planners in the selection and encouragement of different approaches, methods and initiatives for South-East Fasle Creek. It is intended to be both an educational document for planners and decision-makers and a discussion document that will promote useful dialogue around the important question of food production in the City.

The report is divided into two parts.

Part I is intended to introduce the subject of urban agriculture and develops a rationale for why we should produce food in the city.

Part II investgates how this might be achieved and the vartious barriers to implementation that exist.

Recommendations about how to achieve a sustainable urban agriculture are embedded in the body of the report but also summed up in the final section.


1.2 A Discussion Of Sustainability As It Relates To Food And Agriculture

The principles of sustainability are still being wrestled with at many levels and no concise definition of sustainability could do justice to all the complexities of the issue. However, it is clear from all writers on the subject that moving in the direction of sustainability will require significant adjustments to the way we currently operate in the ecological, economic and social spheres. It is important to remember that cities, by themselves, can never be sustainable. Cities rely on their economic hinterlands to produce the raw materials and products that are eventually consumed by city dwellers. We would, for example, be hard pressed to produce enough food, in the City of Vancouver, to satisfy anything like our present levels of consumption. But, to what extent we can be self-reliant and harness our waste products is crucial to whether sustainability on a regional, national or global scale is achievable.

Figure 1-1 - The three spheres of sustainability(Not available here)

Sustainability is a complex interweaving of ecological, economic and social elements. We cannot achieve sustainability without addressing all three of these elements at the same time because they all have a profound effect on each other. Therefore any solutions to the problem of sustainability need to make improvements in all three areas. This is where urban agriculture offers an almost unique opportunity because it can have a positive impact in each of these three areas.

Ecological sustainability requires that we:

  1. Maintain and improve the productivity and fertility of ecological life-support systems (including the soil) indefinitely. Maintain constant stocks of natural capital and live off the interest that nature provides.
  2. Maintain the genetic and biological diversity of species of plants, animals insects etc.
  3. Drastically reduce our throughput of material and energy to avoid global ecological catastrophes such as climate change and crashing fish populations.

Economic Sustainability requires that we:

  1. Create meaningful employment for everyone
  2. Provide an adequate standard of living for all citizens
  3. Balance the fiscal books in the long term

Social Sustainability requires that we:

  1. Have democratic participatory governance systems that all citizens feel a part of
  2. That we learn from traditional ecological knowledge
  3. That the benefits and costs of moving towards sustainability are shared and understood by everyone and that a process of social learning takes place.
  4. That our social institutions are robust but adaptive to changing circumstances
  5. That the trend of increasing income disparity is reversed.

Trying to define what sustainable means in terms of food is problematic because we are tied into a global network of trading, dominated by an oligopoly of powerful players, that impacts ecosystems and cultures at different scales of space and time. It is helpful to think of this global network of food production, processing, distribution and retailing as the food system. This term accurately reflects the inter-relatedness of the various components of global food industry and how this industry relates to the eco-sphere on which it is reliant.

Any policy that is trying to achieve sustainability has to take into account the impact of human beings at many different scales. For agriculture we need to ask questions such as "what things should we (as a neighbourhood, city, region or country) produce and at what scale? How does the food we consume in Vancouver impact on the producers of that food on the other side of the globe? Can we have a say in how our food is produced or are we at the mercy of international trade agreements? "

One thing is clear: ecological sustainability on any scale can only be achieved by communities that use significantly less resources, result in the degradation of far less ecologically productive land both at a local and global level, and produce far fewer, and less polluting, waste outputs than are at present the norm.

Rees and Wackernagel (1996) have shown that each of us in N. America requires at least 4.27 hectares of ecologically productive land to provide for our present consumptive needs (1.3 hectares for our food needs). But there is only 1.5 hectares of this land for each person on the earth so quite clearly, our over-consumption is to the detriment of the ecosphere and those in poorer nations.

However, it is possible to significantly reduce our reliance on these ghost acres (as ecological educator David Orr calls this hidden resource) by substituting locally produced, organic products, grown using the waste that currently pollutes our air, streams and oceans, for the imported ecological productivity we currently rely on. Simply stated we have to reduce the amount of material and energy inputs used to produce the food we consume. This report aims to examine some of the ways that this might be achieved in a dense urban environment where land is scarce and expensive, soil may be contaminated or non-existent, and food production is considered by many, to be inappropriate, untidy or unprofitable.


1.3 What is Urban Agriculture?

Urban agriculture is the term used to describe the production of agricultural products, including food, medicinal herbs, ornamental plants and fuel-wood, in the urban environment. It includes a diverse array of different production techniques, approaches and products and may be a for-profit enterprise, an important contribution to a family's food needs, or simply an enjoyable pastime. This report concentrates on food because of its primary importance to health, well-being and the environment.

The report also considers alternatives to the various spin-off industries that come between the farmer and our dinner tables. These are the food processing; food marketing; and food retailing industries.

The production of food within cities is an age old tradition that still occurs globally on a large scale. It was an integral part of the life of the earliest urbanites. Even in the earliest known city, Catal Huyuk in present-day Turkey, grain cultivation and domestic animal rearing were part of the fabric of daily life. In 19th century Paris, a large proportion of the City's vegetables and salad crops were produced under glass cloches which extended the growing season throughout most of the year. Urban food production in industrialized countries, however, mainly disappeared this century and this activity has come to be seen as somehow inappropriate for the urban dweller, better left to our country cousins. The scale of food production in many developing countries is truly staggering. Roughly 200 million people worldwide are involved in urban agriculture and 800 million derive at least some of their nutritional requirements from food produced in the urban environment. These people are often responding to desperate conditions of poverty and malnutrition and urban agriculture is a realistic way to provide for a hungry family.


1.4 Problem, Definition and Context:
The need for Urban Agriculture in Canada

In many developing countries then, urban agriculture is an economic and practical necessity. In contrast Canada has, at present, a plentiful food supply derived from both local and global sources. However, a rapidly expanding world population, severe soil erosion and declining productivity in many areas, the inability of developing countries to feed their own populations, the delicate balance of peace in supplier countries, and global climatic changes mean that the food security most of us enjoy is not guaranteed to last far into the next century. There are also the pressing concerns of sustainable development that must be addressed if we are to maintain the earth's essential life-support systems that we all rely on. At the same time, the food we do have is not available to everyone. We are witnessing increasing dependence on food banks and soup kitchens in urban centres as the withdrawal of welfare state provisions are inadequately replaced by food charity (Riches 1997).


1.4.1 Environmental

According to Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute, 1981 was a turning point for agriculture. In that year, for the first time since agriculture began, the amount of land planted to crops on the planet actually fell, meaning that the amount of land reclaimed was exceeded by amount of land degraded or converted to non-agricultural use. Grain output per person fell nearly seven percent between 1984 and 1989. The world's farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with a growing global population. Not only is productivity falling but prices are also rising. After reaching an all time low of $117 per ton, wheat prices rose 48% to an estimated $173 per ton in 1989. It seems that environmental degradation is finally showing up in declining productivity and increased costs. The promise of limitless production to provide for an ever increasing population is no longer tenable. It is time to adopt some different strategies that will see us into the 21st century.

Figure 1-2 - (Not available here) The Food System: Adapted from BCMAFF home page

Canada's position could also become more precarious. Not only do we rely on imports from ecologically threatened areas for much of our food, but the amount of productive land used to grow our own produce is dwindling and is not guaranteed to remain productive enough to feed a growing population. There is also the consideration of our responsibility to poorer nations. Food imports do contribute to the economies of less developed countries but they can also inflate food prices and diminish the availability of food for marginalized populations. As David Zirnhelt (previously Minister of Agriculture for the Province of BC) has said "One of the questions is how much a province that has considerable food production capability should put pressure on the more limited resource base elsewhere."

Although Canada has a massive land area of 918 million hectares, only 4.8% of this (44.2 million ha.) is in current production. About 20 million additional hectares are considered to hold potential for some form of agricultural use, but most of these lie in less favourable climatic zones and are more suited to animal based agriculture. British Columbia has a mere 0.8% of its 95 million hectare land base in cultivation.

At the same time, urban development is encroaching on more and more valuable agricultural land (human settlements are almost always located in areas of prime agricultural land). With little opportunity to expand the productive land area, farmers and agrochemical companies have attempted with some success to increase yields using improved crop strains and by using energy and chemical intensive methods. These changes have included a general trend towards mechanization (relying on petroleum-based products) and away from human labour, increasing the size of fields to allow more extensive cultivation, the development of new genetic crop strains with shorter growth periods and higher yields, and the development of insecticides, fungicides and herbicides to combat pests, diseases and weed growth. More recently the emphasis has been placed on biotechnology to increase yields.

Despite the seeming progress of improved yields and cheaper food, many of these methods have had considerable negative impacts on soil and food quality, and severe environmental impacts such as the contamination of water bodies. Some believe that the success of the so-called green revolution was simply due to increased use of pesticides and fertilizers rather than the increased yields of new genetic crop strains.


1.4.2 Social

1.4.2.1 Concerns about individual health and nutrition. Humans, not surprisingly, are among the most poisoned creatures on Earth.

Diminishing food quality, the overuse of chemical pesticides, fertilizers and preservatives, and the introduction of biotechnology have meant that many people have become concerned with the quality of our food. "Cardiovascular disease and cancer accounted for 64% of deaths in BC in 1995." It seems that eating well in such a synthetic environment is near impossible and that we are surrounded by such a plethora of poisons. David Steinman refers to this increasing concern over what we eat as "food anxiety" in his book Diet For A Poisoned Planet. In it, he describes a myriad of different chemical residues that pollute our food and drink. These include PCB's, pesticides, heavy metals, and nitrates and nitrites in our drinking water as the result of the use of synthetic fertilisers on farmland. Listing the residues found in just about every food and drink we consume, Steinman recommends eating organic foods whenever possible, eating vegetable rather than animal products (because chemical residues are more concentrated the farther up the food chain you go - and of course we're on top) and avoiding the most contaminated foods such as apples (containing 80 residues), peanuts (in which a staggering 183 residues were found in sixteen samples) and raisins (110 industrial chemical and pesticide residues in sixteen samples). In the rush for gigantic, perfectly-formed fruit, farmers spray trees with chemicals known as plant growth regulators such as Sevin or gibberelic acid, a commonly-used plant hormone. Much of this profligate use of chemicals could be avoided if we were just willing to except smaller, less perfect-looking food.

A National Cancer Institute Study in the US found that children are up to six times more likely to suffer from childhood leukemia when pesticides are used in the home or garden. Recently Britain has spent hundreds of millions of pounds and destroyed thousands of cattle where poor feeding practices (turning cattle into carnivores) have led to an outbreak of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE - mad cow disease) a disease which has been linked with scrapie in sheep and the deadly Creutzfelt Jacob's Disease in humans.

Processed and non-local foods are also likely to lead to increased incidence of allergies and auto-immune diseases. "The proliferation of highly processed foods in tandem with the globalization of the food industry means that much of the food we eat in the developed world has less and less of the local physical environment attached to it...the mucosal system is given little chance to learn which local pollen, mould, and dust can be eaten without harm, and hence can also be breathed without harm."

The organic farming movement is gaining popularity worldwide as people realize the health and nutritional consequences of a diet based on petroleum, chemicals and genetic engineering. In some places organic food is becoming thoroughly mainstream. Sweden has a policy to convert 10% of all farms within three years. In Denmark 10% of all food sold this year is expected to be organic and the (supportive) government is revising its goal upward to 20%. Similar moves are being made in Finland, Sweden, and Germany. Organic methods and scales of production tend to be more labour intensive and less subsidized (in the form of cheap chemical inputs and fossil fuels for which the damage is not accounted for), and this is usually reflected in a higher cost product in the stores. However, this is simply the true, non-subsidized cost of food production and presently we are not accounting for the full costs of food production.


1.4.2.2 Inability of governments or citizens to exert influence over food production in a global food economy.

The advent of trading agreements such as GATT and NAFTA, and the removal of trading barriers in the European Community, mean that we are increasingly reliant on other provinces and nations for our food needs. The Federal and Provincial governments, and consequently the rest of us, have less autonomy in deciding what is beneficial or detrimental for our health and the environment. For example "The FTA required harmonization of our pesticide standard with the American one, in accordance with the American approach of risk-benefit analysis, which requires the balancing of the health effects of a pesticide with economic loss to producers of preventing its registration. This standard is lower than Canadian standard in the Pesticide Products Control Act, Regulation Section 18(d), which is exclusively based on health considerations." Also, a recent interim report by the World Trade Organization rejected the European Union's ban on cattle treated with growth hormones.

While global trade has the benefit of bringing diverse, fresh products from around the globe to our refrigerators, it also has a number of less fortunate consequences. Citizens are now virtually powerless to know where their food comes from, let alone exert any form of control over how this food is produced. Many countries give huge subsidies to mainstream agriculture and encourage the profligate use of water, fertilizers and petroleum inputs into the farm machine. Despite the massive ecological cost involved in the transportation, refrigeration, storage, packaging, marketing, and displaying of food products that go unaccounted for, we are all increasingly powerless to influence these events. Making food production a local, urban issue is one of the keys to exerting some form of control over how food is produced and educating people about the ecological ramifications of business as usual. It is therefore vital to the issue of sustainability.


1.4.3 Economic

The average Canadian household spends $5,686 /year on food - more than any other item except accommodation. This figure represents over 12% of the average before-tax income and nearly 18% of household consumption. However this figure obscures the fact that low-income households spend 30% of their income on food. Meat and meat preparations represent the largest expenditure at 18%, dairy products - 11%, fruit & nuts - 8%, vegetables and vegetable preparations - 6.5%.

Despite these figures, agriculture and its related service industries at $11,876 million (constant 1986 dollars), represent less than 2% of the nation's GDP. This apparent paradox, of food expenditure being high but the GDP of agriculture being low, is explained by the fact that most of the monetary value (and cost) of food is generated by the post-production industries of food processing, marketing, wholesaling and retailing. Although "value-added" is a common buzz-word at present, it is a misleading concept when applied to food. Because of food's primary importance for health and existence we have to give consideration to nutritional value and people's ability to feed themselves over and above any economic value. Highly processed foods may well have much "value-added" but they also usually mean lower nutritional value for much increased cost.

As mechanization has increased the number of jobs in agriculture has declined dramatically. In 1991, Canada's farming households comprised only 3% of the population, a similar figure to that in many other Northern countries. This is compared to a peak of 31% of the population in 1931. Human labour has systematically been replaced with machines.

Canadian imports of agricultural and fishing products have been on the rise up from $9736.4 million in 1992 to $13,370 in 1995. About 30% of the 1995 figure is fruit and vegetable imports. Exports have also been increasing, up from $14,609 millions in 1992 to $20,001 millions in 1995. Canada, therefore, is a net exporter of agricultural products. 20% of the 1995 figure is represented by wheat exports. The full cost of this increased trade is not taken into account. Although it may appear good for the national balance sheet, the assumptions of competitive advantage are questionable and the impacts of trade on joblessness, income distribution and environmental quality go unaccounted for.


2. The Potential of Urban Agriculture to Address The Concerns of Sustainable Development

Urban agriculture has the potential to simultaneously address many of the concerns of sustainability. These include: environmental concerns over soil loss; air and water pollution; excessive resource consumption and habitat destruction; economic concerns such as high unemployment and unequal distribution of resources; and social concerns such as health, food access for low-income citizens and the empowerment of local communities to make choices about food consumption.


2.1 Environmental

2.1.1 Soil Erosion and Degradation

The world loses 24 billion tons of topsoil each year. "...many soils across the country [Canada] are deteriorating as a consequence of one or more of the following processes: soil erosion by water or wind; soil structure and fertility loss accompanying intensive tillage; soil salinization; soil acidification; soil contamination by chemical residues; and soil disturbance."

Any agricultural policy should address the chronic condition of soil erosion in this, and other, countries. Not only does the steady erosion of soil structure and fertility mean that increasing amounts of land are been deforested, it also means that more energy in the form of petrochemical-based fertilisers is required to constantly replenish the lost nutrients and increased fuel is needed to plough heavier soils.

Urban agriculture can address this problem by relieving the pressure on marginalized lands to produce crops and adopting organic techniques and approaches to gardening that maintain and improve productivity without destroying soil fertility.


2.1.2 Habitat Destruction

Mono-cultural farming practices and the heavy use of pesticides have created a farming environment that is often inhospitable for wildlife. Urban gardens can be of immense value in creating animal, bird and insect habitat and should contain an indigenous plant component. Important habitat in the urban realm should be created by replacing the use of harmful biocides by integrated pest management, using mixed plantings, including perennials, and practicing edible landscaping rather than ornamental landscaping. Using rare cultivars can also contribute to maintaining the diversity of genetic stock.

2.1.3 Loss of agricultural land to urban development

Until the introduction of the agricultural Land Reserve (1972-75) the Province was losing 6000 hectares a year to non-farm uses. Despite this strong piece of legislation, 1,235 hectares were lost to non-farm uses in 1995. In comparison, Washington State lost an average of 30,000 hectares per year to non farm uses between 1982-1992. The City of Vancouver, of course, has no land in the ALR, but the decreasing amount of high quality agricultural land in the Province is an important concern for food security.

Urban agriculture should be achieved without compromising the goals of compact communities identified in the Livable Region Strategic Plan and identified as desirable in CityPlan. This means that we cannot simply zone large areas of urban land as agricultural because this will undermine the ability of neighbourhoods to absorb the growing population. Instead we must look for ways to grow food in the underutilized and interstitial spaces of the city by overlapping uses and creatively making use of derelict space such as rooftops, vacant lots and roadside verges. If not, urban agriculture by promoting urban sprawl will contribute to the loss of valuable agricultural land at the urban fringe. Vancouver's CityPlan explicitly calls for the creation of a city of neighbourhood centres. "Neighbourhood centres will help the environment by reducing the need to travel long distances from home to jobs and services." A policy on urban agriculture should contribute toward the implementation of this laudable idea. This can be achieved by allowing people access to community gardens in their neighbourhoods and by improving the availability of good quality, fresh produce at a neighbourhood level. Producing as much food as possible within the community will reduce the reliance on the automobile and so lessen its adverse impact on a dense city of neighbourhood centres.


2.1.4 Pollution and resource use

Poor farming practice has resulted in widespread ecological damage of ecosystems. The list of offenses includes surface and ground water pollution, sedimentation, air pollution, wildlife contamination (including bio-accumulation in the food chain), desertification and flooding. There are also the less obvious effects of resource use and waste generation resulting from the transportation, packaging, storage, display and disposal of food. Modern agribusiness basically grows food using petroleum. Every stage of the food production process, from tilling the field to display in the supermarket, requires large quantities of petroleum-based energy. "We now use 20BTU's of fuel energy to produce 1 BTU of food energy. By comparison in 1910 that ration was 1:1." In British Columbia, farmers use 20 million litres of gasoline and 35.4 million litres of diesel each year. This is supplemented with 51,200 tonnes of commercial petroleum-based fertilisers. In Britain, food related transportation represents one quarter of all journeys and 12% of fuel-consumption. Canadian figures are, no doubt, similar.

Growing food more proximally to its point of consumption will reduce the amount of transportation, storage, and packaging required to deliver food to people.


2.1.5 The "Ecological Footprint" of Vancouver's Food Consumption

The "Ecological Footprint" concept was developed by Bill Rees and Mathis Wackernagel at UBC's School of Community and Regional Planning. It is a measure of the overall ecological impact of human consumption and is therefore an ideal tool with which to gauge sustainability. Correctly identifying land as the true scarce resource, the "ecological footprint" is calculated by estimating the equivalent area of ecologically productive land used to produce the materials and energy, and assimilate the waste for the products we consume. Therefore the ecological footprint of individuals, neighbourhoods, cities, nations or, even the human population of the planet itself, can be calculated. For the purpose of this report it is useful to be able to calculate the ecological footprint attributed to food consumption in Vancouver. This is basically the measure of the amount of ecologically productive land needed to produce the materials and energy, and assimilate the wastes used to grow, transport, fertilize, package, store and display the food that we consume. Ecological footprint analysis provides a useful way to compare the ecological efficiency of different methods of production by comparing the equivalent land areas utilized by each method to produce the same quantity of food.

According to Rees and Wackernagel the average Canadian uses 4.27 hectares of ecologically productive land in order to sustain their total consumption. Of this, 1.30 hectares (30%) is dedicated to food production.

Table 2-1 shows how this figure is broken down.

Hectares of Ecologically Productive Land Per Capita Energy Degraded Land Garden Crop Pasture Forest Total
Food - All 0.33 . 0.02 0.60 0.33 0.02 1.30
Fruit/Veg/Grains 0.14 . 0.02 0.18 . 0.01? 0.35
Animal Products 0.19 . . 0.42 0.33 0.01? 0.95

Table 2-1 Per Capita Ecological Footprint of Vancouver's Food Consumption

The table shows the equivalent area of ecologically productive land used to produce our food and assimilate the wastes. This includes the amount of land needed to absorb the CO2 produced from energy used in the food sector as well as the ecologically productive land used to grow crops and feed livestock (A small amount of food is also derived from forests) . Source: Rees & Wackernagel 1996 "Our Ecological Footprint"

The total ecological footprint of Vancouver's food consumption is (assuming our consumption patterns are similar to those for the rest of Canada):

1.3 hectares
x 514,000
= 668,200 hectares.
Ecological Footprint
of individual's
food consumption
. population of
City of Vancouver
(1996 census)
Total land area
required to support
City's food consumption

The City of Vancouver covers a land area of 11,340 hectares, so the ecological footprint of Vancouver's food consumption is 668,200 / 11,340 = 59 times the city's land area.

This, remember, is just the land area required to support our present food consumption and does not include the marine area required to produce the fish we eat or land required to assimilate the atmospheric pollution generated from the transportation trips required to distribute and purchase the food. This type of analysisi reveals the debt which cities owe to their hinterlands and give sthe lie to the notion that cities could ever be self-sufficient.

Urban agriculture can reduce the Ecological Footprint of food consumption in the following ways:


2.1.5.1 reducing transportation-related pollution

Reducing vehicular traffic is a major goal of GVRD's Livable Region Strategy and transportation is, of course, a major contributor to many environmental and health problems as well as the driving force behind urban sprawl. If our food was produced more proximally, especially that with a short shelf-life, then much energy-use and pollution could be avoided. An urban food production policy could lessen the need for car-based shopping trips by encouraging backyard growing and initiating local produce markets that are within walking/cycling distance. Locally produced food can reduce the number of trips required to distribute the food to suppliers and further reduce pollution.

Packaging and storage requirements will be lessened for the same reason and food may even be cheaper if it can be channeled direct from the producer to the consumer. It is also important that community/allotment gardens be within a reasonable distance from where people live otherwise the automobile problem may be exacerbated.


2.1.5.2 minimizing the use of petroleum-based energy products in farming practice.

As can be seen from the ecological footprint information, a large proportion of our ecological footprint is derived from the use of fossil fuels on farms and in transporting that food to markets. If we compare N. American use of energy with figures from India our overuse of energy seems irresponsible and unnecessary. N. American farmers did produce a yield three times greater than that of India but to do so required the use of 15 times more fossil fuel energy. The difference is, of course, machinery. Indian corn was produced using 615 person-hours per hectare whereas N. American wheat used only seven. The Western world has rapidly substituted human labour with fossil-fuel powered machinery.

Urban agriculture can have a significant impact on agricultural fuel consumption by returning to a more labour intensive form of food production. This will drastically reduce the need for agricultural machinery and will increase employment in the farm sector.


2.1.5.3 minimizing water consumption

Although Vancouver's water supply is plentiful, a growing population is placing more pressure on the systems ability to cope with demand. There are, of course, significant environmental costs involved with building reservoir supplies (such as degraded fish habitat). It seems sensible therefore to limit the use of potable water for garden irrigation as much possible by devising efficient irrigation, water re-use, and water retention techniques. Urban agriculture can contribute towards water saving by re-using treated grey-water, using rain barrels to collect and store water, mulching and cover-cropping so as to reduce surface evaporation.

2.1.5.4 utilizing waste-water/sewage streams from buildings

The waste-water output stream from residential buildings represents another potential resource that could be utilised in urban food production. Not only does this constitute a huge waste of valuable irrigation water, but sewage also contains valuable nutrients that could be used for plant fertilization and aquaculture. Techniques exist that could efficiently and safely use this resource. Our preference is always to remove this problem as far away as possible and it is a major challenge that needs to be met if we are to make the transition to sustainability.


2.1.5.5 utilizing waste heat from buildings

Vancouver's temperate climate is not ideal for year-round vegetable production. However, there is a huge amount of waste heat coming from the roofs and heating ducts of most residential and commercial buildings. This is a potential resource and could extend the growing season if we could devise ways of using this heat before it escapes into the atmosphere and is lost forever. This could be done by using rooftop gardens or rooftop greenhouses.


2.2 Social

2.2.1.1 food security/food access for low-income citizens

Urban agriculture can have a positive effect on the range of healthy, nutritionally balanced and culturally appropriate food available to low income people. As the most basic requirement of a healthy life this should be seen as an absolute priority. Although local food production will never be a substitute for a decent level of income, it can contribute to the ease of access to nutritionally adequate and culturally appropriate sources of food.


2.2.1.2 expanding the supply of fresh, healthy organic food and food products available to people in local markets.

Two thirds of Canadians believe nutrition is somewhat or very important. Making organic produce more available and less expensive should be a major goal of all governments concerned with the welfare of their citizens. As has been noted above, our food supply is contaminated with a vast array of chemical residues. The incidence of cancers is epidemic. Breast cancer incidence increased 14% between 1973 and 1985. The US Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health in1988 estimated as many as 10,000 cancer deaths annually could be caused by chemical additives in food. Organic food consumption can drastically reduce our exposure to harmful chemicals because it introduces no new chemicals in the farming process, relying as it does on non-petroleum-based fertilisers such as compost or animal manure, integrated pest-management techniques rather than pesticides, and benevolent species pairings to ward off pests and crop diseases.


2.2.1.3 increasing local control of the food production system

The more locally food is produced the more exposure local people will have to the food growing process and the bio-physical processes involved. This will have an educational role and will hopefully encourage people to value and appreciate productive land. It will also increase the influence citizens can have over the way food is produced. Rather than arriving from far-off lands in sealed containers and then miraculously ending up on super-market shelves, the urban food-production process will be transparent from the start. People will know if their vegetables have been sprayed or grown on contaminated land. They will also understand what sort of inputs are used in the farming process and whether any harmful environmental practices are occurring.


2.2.1.4 fostering citizen cooperation and community development through the highly cooperative activity of gardening.

There is no doubt that gardening brings out the best of human nature. It is an inherently cooperative enterprise where novices learn from experts and many hands can make light work of an otherwise difficult task. The community gardens in Vancouver are wonderful examples of this cooperative spirit. These groups have self-organized to steward a piece of land and do a wonderful job of maintaining both the land and the human organizations necessary to oversee a large group of people.


2.2.1.5 encouraging the eating of fruit, vegetables and grains rather than meat and fish protein.

In the United States, 91 percent of the estimated 27.1 million metric tonnes of cereal, legume and vegetable protein suitable for human use is fed to livestock to produce the 5.3 million metric tons of animal protein that is consumed annually. Thus for every 5kg of vegetable and fish protein fed to livestock in addition to the large forage intake, we obtain 1 kg of animal protein. "If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million..." Eating a diet that is predominantly vegetarian is a major saving of resources.



2.3 Economic

2.3.1.1 encouraging urban agriculture through economic incentives and market opportunities.

Most urban food production is at present, not for profit. It is mostly done by people for their immediate family's food needs. There is, frankly, little economic incentive to grow your own food and growing for profit (or at least to earn a living) is problematic in urban areas. A policy for urban agriculture should try to address this problem and create economic opportunities for people to grow food that can be sold to local residents. This could range from individual backyard growers selling their surplus produce, to commercial market garden and aquaculture operations. Farmers markets are an excellent way to bring producers and consumers together and they often manage to incorporate a significant educational component as well as a fun morning out. Community Supported Agriculture is another way to ensure the viability of urban farmers. This type of scheme is already popular in ex-urban situations. It basically involves citizens sharing in the risk of a bad harvest or the bounty of a good one by purchasing their vegetables from the farmer in advance. It also can involve a certain level of sweat equity. What is clear is that economic incentives are needed to increase the presently small but important level of urban food production.


2.3.1.2 encouraging local economic development and job opportunities

Urban agriculture could also encourage many employment opportunities. Small scale, organic urban farming is a much more labour intensive form of agriculture than its agri-business counterpart which in the period 1931-1992 went from 31% to 3% of the population in turn creating a problem of rural-urban migration. One recent study also showed that small-scale organic agriculture can produce higher returns for the farmer who relies on premium prices and household scale production. (???ref.?) With unemployment cruising around 9%, creating maximum employment possibilities should be a pre-requisite of any urban agriculture policy. Making farming labour intensive reduces resource use as well. Alf Hornborg has called human labour the most thermodynamically efficient form of energy use.

A number of beneficial spin-off industries are likely to result from growing more food in the city. Small-scale food processing opportunities will arise and there will be a demand for suppliers of tools, equipment, seeds, plants, and composts.


Figure 2-1 - The benefits of urban agriculture(Not available here)


Part II - Pursuing Urban Agriculture

Expanding the current level of food production in the city and making that production sustainable depends on several factors:

  1. Land - the space needed to grow food must be made available

  2. Re-using/recycling wastes - growing more food locally is also an opportunity to re-use and recycle wastes that contain valuable nutrients that can be used to enhance food production.

  3. Techniques and approaches - the methods used to grow the food will determine, to some extent, the safety and nutritional quality of the food and also have a big impact on the quality of the soil, habitat and longevity of the urban agro-ecosystem.

  4. Economic incentives - providing appropriate retail opportunities, credit and capital, will encourage production of food in the city and create jobs.

  5. Education - educating the public about the benefits of locally produced food and also about the problems of the current food system will help build support, increase the acceptability of urban agriculture, and encourage people to make wiser spending decisions.

  6. Equality - the system devised and the approaches used should benefit everyone in terms of access to healthy nutritious food and not exacerbate the problems of income inequality.


3. Utilizing All the Available Space in Cities?

In order to produce food in the city we need to provide adequate space. This means we have to re-think our current approach to planning and begin to consider food production in the city as a necessary land-use. However, to simply zone large areas of land as agricultural in the city would be inappropriate because this would conflict with the aims of creating a compact, dense city. Rather, we need to identify currently underutilized spaces and maximize their potential for agriculture. A diversity of different spaces and approaches will maximize the micro-scale efficiency of food production in the city.


3.1 Backyards

Current Situation - Backyard vegetable growing probably represents by far the most significant contribution to food production in the city at the present time. Thousands of people grow at least some of their own food during the summer months and some manage to keep a productive garden growing year round. However, many residents have turned their yards into ecological deserts. Not only are some missing any food plants but they are missing any plants at all. The desire for a maintenance-free home has meant that many people have simply paved their yards. However, a walk around the Commercial Drive area or the intersection of Knight and Kingsway for example, will reveal an incredible intensity of backyard food production. Some people seem to be growing most of their fresh vegetable requirements, saving money and providing fresh, nutritious food for themselves and their families.


Benefits Of Back-Yard Growing - To evaluate the Philadelphia Urban Gardening Project, researchers at Pennsylvania State University surveyed 144 urban gardeners to assess the benefits gained from urban gardening. They found that "the mean economic value of the 151 assessed garden plots was $160 with a range of $2 to $1134. This is similar to the median yield value category of $101 to $250 for community vegetable production reported by the National Gardening Association survey of community gardens....49.7% of the Philadelphia urban garden plots yielded produce worth > $100, 29.2% had a yield worth between $101 and $250, 15.1% yielded between $251 and $500, and 6% yielded produce worth >$500."

The other findings of this study are that:

  1. Gardening is linked with eating more vegetables and less milk products

  2. Gardeners have greater control over the variety, quality, and quantity of the produce they consume.

  3. Finally, gardening appears to facilitate community' self-help. Gardeners were more active than non-gardeners in community projects, and shared their vegetable wealth with family, friends, passers-by, and church food pantries, thereby becoming nutrition change agents in their own right.

Recommendations - The amount of food production in backyards will likely increase with concerns over food safety and cost, and opportunities to derive an income from growing food.

3.2 Community Gardens

Current Situation - Vancouver has twelve established community gardens. Table 3-1and Figure 3-2 show the location of community gardens throughout the city, the owner of the land, approximate number of plots and the number of acres occupied by each. Strathcona community gardens is one of the most successful and long established of the city's community gardens and makes a valuable contribution to the local community in terms of healthy, nutritious food for the gardeners and a valuable sense of shared ownership for the whole neighbourhood.

Since the Parks Board approved a community gardens policy (see section13.6) in April 1995, two additional community gardens have been established on city-owned land and another has been expanded. Although this is an encouraging start, there is great scope for increasing the number of community gardens in the city. Most community gardens have a waiting list, despite not advertising. The City of Vancouver has 580 community garden plots and Greater Vancouver has a total of about 2000 plots in 21 operating community gardens. Other cities provide for a much greater involvement in community gardens - Berlin, for example, has more than 80,000 gardeners who lease plots on land where buildings were destroyed in World War II. Metropolitan Montreal has 6,278 garden plots which are attended by some 10,000 residents (1.5% of the city's adult population).. The success of the Montreal example seems to stem partly from the fact that the municipality hires three animateurs whose job is to actively promote community gardening and provide advice, education and site identification. In New York a municipal agency called "Green Thumb" makes more than 1000 vacant lots available to community groups and urban gardeners.


Figure 3-1 Strathcona Community Gardens(Not availble here)

Vacant lots often stand idle for a number of years while the owner raises the finances necessary to develop the land. This seems to present an opportunity for urban farmers who could make use of this land if the necessary agreements could be forged between the landowner and prospective user. The role of municipal government is crucial here. Not only can municipalities maintain an up to date list of pieces of land, they can also act as intermediaries between the two parties and provide model legal agreements. In Chicago the "Turn A Lot Around" program which aims to rejuvenate vacant lots through the use of municipal compost has the effect of discouraging illegal dumping and creating community gardens form derelict sites.

Recommendations:


Table 3-1. Community Gardens in Vancouver

Garden Name Strathcona Community Gardens Cottonwood Community Gardens Jonathan Roger's Park Fraser Community Gardens McSpadden Community Gardens Maple Community Gardens Cypress Community Gardens West End Kitsilano Robson Park Community Gardens UBC
Location Strathcona Park - Prior St./Hawks St. Southern Perimeter of Strathcona Park E. 8th/ Manitoba E.8th/ Fraser McSpadden Park -5th./ Victoria Along Arbutus rail line at 6th/ Maple Along Arbutus rail line at 6th/ Cypress Data not available 6th/ Maple 13th. / Guelph UBC Student Housing
Land Owner/ controller Park's Board Park's Board/Eng. dept. Park's Board Park's Board Park's Board City/CPR City/CPR at time of writing Park's Board Park's Board UBC
Established 1985 1991 1994 1987 1996 1990 1997 . 1987 1995 .
Site Area 3 acres 40' x 600' 145' x 75' 1/3 acre 126'x100' 30' x 50' . . . 2 city lots 3000 sq. ft. .
No. of Plots 200 60-70 55 55 20 82 40 . 40 40 83
Av. Plot Size 105 144 140 100 50 36 36 . 40-80 90 .
Membership Fee . $15/yr $5 joining $10/yr $10/yr $10/yr $0 - $10/yr $0 - $10/yr . $10-$20/yr $10/yr .
No. on Waiting List 17 15-20 15 . 5 . 15 . 1-3 5 .
Total No. of Members 100+ 60 . . 35 80 40 . 40 40+ .
Problems Theft & Vandalism - 10%+ Theft/ vandalism . Theft - 15% High demand for plots Theft - small amount. No water source Lack of city community gardens policy. Need inventory of city owned land. Lack of city community gardens policy. Need inventory of city owned land. . Year to year lease . .
Contact Muggs Sigurseirson 689-0397 Leah 255-3549 Peter Royce 873-3310 Gavin Ross 879-3676 Fiona Bowie 255-1451 Barb Atkins 922-7730 Barb Atkins 922-7730 . Heather 736-1404 Donna Lockhurst 874-4308 .

Table 3-1. Community Gardens in Vancouver (complied from interviews with garden organisers)

Figure 3-2 community gardens in the Vancouver area(Not available here)

3.3 Rooftop Gardens

Current Situation - A typical aerial photograph of Vancouver will reveal that the city has a vast amount of flat roof space which could be utilized as productive growing space in the form of urban gardens. (estimate usable roof space in central area alone) There are, of course, number of roof gardens in the city although they are seldom, if ever, designed for food growing. The lack of roof space probably represents the city's biggest waste of potential growing space.

"In some parts of Germany, new industrial buildings must have green roofs by law; in Swiss cities, regulations now require new construction to relocate the area of green space covered up by the building's footprint to the rooftop - and even existing buildings, some hundreds of years old, must convert 20% of their roof space to pasture! This has spawned a whole new industry which specializes in lightweight growing mediums, filter cloths, roofing membranes, plant stock, and how-to books and kits; nurseries, designers, consultants, and contractors have been forced to relearn and re-adjust in order to compete in the new market, with the result that they now have more and varied work."

Benefits - In theory just about any plant can be grown on a rooftop garden including small fruit trees. Rooftop gardens can take advantage of the heat output of a building which can extend the growing season by as much as 3 weeks and it is common in winter for the soil of a rooftop garden to be 5 to 10 degrees Celsius higher than soil in the surrounding landscape. This additional heat input makes it possible to grow palms, figs and vines in temperate areas. It also improves building insulation and reduces heating costs. The presence of vegetation on rooftops can improve the local micro-climate and reduces the heat-island effect. The roof acts like a sponge and the absorption of rainfall reduces the pressure on the storm-water and sewer system. Roof gardens can be places where residents, who would otherwise never meet, congregate for social activities and rally around the common interest of gardening. Soil can also extend the life of a flat roof by protecting the waterproof membrane although careful consideration has to be given to the materials used and construction methods used.

Considerations - There are a number of factors that need to be taken into account when deciding if an existing roof is adequate for installing a rooftop garden or designing a new building. These are:

  1. the type of membrane used for waterproofing purposes. Roofing membranes are nowadays of high quality and tend to be far more durable than those of two decades ago. "If of suitable quality and laid as a three layer system, should prove capable of lasting 50-60 years for asphalt and 20 years for bitumen.

  2. the load-bearing capacity of the roof - a conventional soil profile at a depth of one metre will impose the considerable load of 2 tonnes/m2. According to Brownlie "roofs of commercial buildings are generally built with the same load-bearing capacity as that of other floors in the building and may thus require little, if any, additional structural support for a roof garden. Roofs of residential buildings, however, have a relatively low load-bearing capacity". When planning a roof garden it should be noted that the load the garden will impose depends mainly on the thickness of soil but also whether any large trees or rainwater storage barrels will be used (large point loading) and whether any live loads in the form of heavy machinery or people will be present. Generally live loads can be expected to be around 1. 5 KN./m2 giving a total load of around 5KN/m2. Where weight is a serious problem that cannot be easily overcome, hydroponic systems can be used or we can make use of extremely light growing mediums. It is also possible to use the snow-load capacity of the roof which isn't needed during the growing season.

  3. irrigation method and drainage - obviously an adequate means of watering the garden needs to be in place especially considering that the thinner soils and higher winds on a roof garden will facilitate rapid drying. This could be either a rainwater collection and storage system, could use municipally supplied water, or better still from a sustainability perspective, would be to re-use waste-water from the building.

  4. wind protection - roof gardens need protection from the wind especially if they are on higher buildings. This is necessary to prevent rapid drying of the soil, trap warm air in the garden to facilitate growth and to prevent plant damage.

A number of rooftop gardens already exist in Vancouver but few seem to be used for growing any food. The ability to grow food producing crops in these spaces may well be impeded by the requirement that adequate vegetation is planted by the developer prior to completion.

Recommendations:


Figure 3-3 Example of recent rooftop garden design (Not available here)

3.4 Vertical Gardens

Current Situation - A group of young people are looking into the possibility of growing vertical gardens in dense urban spaces - on walls and balconies. They have already experimented with hydroponic container gardens on Downtown rooftop spaces and are now examining designs for containers that they can build themselves from local timber rather than purchasing expensive, pre-manufactured containers. Their goal is to obtain a piece of land with property and use it to demonstrate the feasibility of urban food production and at the same time generating a viable business form the idea. The group have received enthusiastic support from a number of business people and community leaders. This type of approach is crucial for urban agriculture. Because space is limited in the city we need to devise ways of using vertical space more efficiently to produce food. Just as buildings get taller in areas of expensive land so too must food growing areas. As long as the requirements for sunlight, nutrients and access for harvesting can be met, plants can be stacked vertically to create greater yields from the same land area. Growing food on vertical walls, trellises, and in vertically stacked containers could be a significant contribution to food production if the techniques necessary can be acquired.


Recommendations:

Figure 3-4 Vertical garden concept (Not available here)

3.5 Street Trees/Orchards

Current Situation - Vancouver Park's Board Street Tree Department is responsible for the planting and maintenance of the city's 1,400 km of streets with over 100, 000 street trees currently on them. These trees represent approximately 55% of potential planting sites in the city. Each year a further 4,000 street trees are planted, one third of which are replacements for trees that are lost to disease, old age, development or storm damage. There are a potential 90,000 sites for new trees in the city which represents an incredible opportunity for urban food production. Redbud, Crabapple, Cherry and Plum are all on the list of recommended street trees for Vancouver but generally the non-fruiting cultivars are used. There is the potential., if the will exists, to replace many existing non-fruiting trees with cultivars that could produce an abundance of food for bird, animal and human populations. The current street tree policy of not planting fruit-bearing trees however, means that this does not happen at present. The problem of mess is a real one and innovative approaches to stewardship by local residents are needed to ensure that pruning is undertaken correctly and harvesting is done at the right time. A block or neighbourhood group could negotiate a contract with the city whereby it would agree to manage the trees for a number of years. In return the group would derive the benefits of the fruit harvested from the trees including the right to sell any surplus not required by the group. At Village Homes in the City of Davis, California, the residents now produce and sell enough fruit from their street trees to be able to pay for the maintenance of their remaining public open space. Many people have expressed an interest in including street orchards on the Ridgeway Greenway currently under development. Some cities also grow fruit trees in their parks - Stockholm, Prague, and Bangalore grow up to 25% fruit trees in their urban parks.


Recommendations:


3.6 Inside Buildings

Although most forms of urban agriculture require good solar exposure in order to promote photosynthesis, mushroom growing can happen inside buildings as long as the requirements for warmth and moisture are met. Herbs and salad crops can be grown in window sills or in hanging baskets. This type of production has the added benefit that plants purify the air in a building.


4. Turning Waste into Food

One of the most crucial aspects of sustainability is reducing the amount of waste that the city produces. Organic waste actually represents the mined fertility of our soils - if this fertility is to be replaced and maintained then it is crucial that the nutrients contained in our waste be returned to the soil. Household waste contains virtually all the nutrients plants require (Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorus and other micro-nutrients). Urban agriculture offers a great opportunity to use these otherwise wasted nutrients. The City already has a progressive composting program in operation although this is rarely linked to urban food production. There are also a lack of incentives and disabling regulations that mean that recycling waste-water and sewage at a local level is problematic.


4.1 Solid Waste

Current Situation - Vancouver already has one of the most progressive composting programs in North America. This includes the following initiatives:

4.1.1 Home Composting

4.1.1.1 Demonstration Gardens

The GVRD has developed a number of demonstration gardens where organic gardening and composting techniques are demonstrated to the public.

4.1.1.2 The GVRD Residential Compost Program

The GVRD aims to reduce per capita garbage disposal in the region by 50%, in line with the provincial mandate, by the year 2000. This will be achieved in large part though the residential compost program. Composting can reduce the typical household waste stream by about 30%. The aim is to achieve a much greater number of individual actions by regional residents so as to reduce their organic waste at source. This will be achieved by providing consistent composting messages across the region, providing training, educational resources and support to member municipalities for the delivery of education and promotion programs in organic waste reduction at source. Thirty three educational events have been organized including National Food Composting Awareness week, the distribution of free seed packets and workshops at schools. Eleven compost demonstration gardens have been set up throughout the Lower Mainland where residents can attend workshops to learn the techniques of composting and how to garden using the finished compost. The GVRD also supports the municipal compost bin distribution program and has produced a number of explanatory and educational resources. There is a compost hot-line to answer queries.


Figure 4-1 Over 30% of the Lower Mainland Waste Stream Contains Organic Material. (Not available here)


4.1.1.3 Municipal compost bin distribution program

To encourage composting, Vancouver and sixteen other local municipalities offer compost bins for sale at a highly subsidized price ($25 in 1996). This program seems to have been an outstanding success - 88,000 bins have been distributed in the region so far (16,000 in Vancouver) and 70% of these are used on a regular basis. This has resulted in the diversion of, on average, 250kg/person/year and means that 22,000 metric tonnes of organic waste per year has been saved from the landfills. With the total residential organic waste stream amounting to 210,000 tonnes per year there is still much room for improvement.


4.1.1.4 City of Vancouver Worm Composting Program

Vancouver also subsidizes worm composting bins ($25 in 1997) which comes with a free demonstration workshop. These are ideal for apartment dwellers who previously would have been unable to compost due to lack of suitable space.


4.1.2 Municipal Composting

In some situations composting is done better at a larger scale. Some materials, such as yard waste are difficult to break down using a home composter but can be efficiently dealt with in a municipal system.

4.1.2.1 City of Vancouver Leaf Collection Program

Each fall Vancouver collects leaves from residents backyards in special Kraft paper collection bags. These are then turned into compost. In 1994, a total of 5,000 tonnes of leaves were collected for composting at the City's composting facility. The compost meets the criteria for unrestricted distribution as described in B.C. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks' ‘British Columbia Production and Use of Compost Regulation'. Following processing, the compost is sold to the City's Park Board and landscapers, primarily as a landscape mulch. This compost could, no doubt, be used as a valuable soil amendment for growing food although at present this does not seem to happen.

4.1.2.2 Yard and Garden Waste Composting Facility

In December 1992, Vancouver City Council approved the construction and operation of a yard and garden waste composting facility at the City's Landfill in Delta. The facility is designed to process approximately 22,000 tonnes per year of yard and garden waste.


Recommendations: - The macro-scale efficiencies of centralized composting do not take into account the full costs of transporting the material back and forth from the facility. Smaller scale neighbourhood facilities tied into community gardens and parks would reduce the transportation requirements and also allow the process to become more transparent.


4.2 Sewage and Waste-water

There is an exciting opportunity to close the loop of production in, partial consumption, waste out. At present we are literally flushing a valuable resource down our sinks and toilets. Eventually this potentially valuable food fertilizer is combined with chemical pollutants from storm run-off which are discharged into the Fraser River or Pacific Ocean and becomes a damaging pollutant affecting the productivity of the oceans. This material could be used at source, on backyard gardens through the installation of compost toilets which break sewage down into a safe compost, utilized for irrigation after ultra-violet treatment to remove pathogens, or used in aquaculture to produce fish and shellfish suitable for human consumption. If this idea sounds outlandish it is worth considering that Hong Kong, the world's densest city, produces 40% of its own demand for fish and Calcutta raises one fifth of its fish demand in sewage-fed lagoons.


4.2.1 Utilization of composted sewage-sludge in urban food production.

"Sewage sludge contains all the elements essential for the growth of higher plants." Many municipalities are now composting waste sludge left-over after treatment of sewage. In other cases treated sludge is applied directly to farmland. . Previously this material was destined for the land-fill. This material could be used for food production and indeed the city of Milwaukee manufactures its sewage sludge into a sterilized fertiliser that they call Milorganiteš. The use of bio-solids in food growing applications does not pose a technical problem but at present the GVRD declines to use its Nutriforš product for food growing because of the perception of growing food in composted human waste. However, sewage sludge can contain high concentrations of heavy metals and these may build up to toxic levels after a number of applications. These heavy metals mainly derive from industrial and automobile sources. If sewage could be treated and composted at a more local level this problem of heavy metal contamination would be lessened or removed altogether. The product is currently used for silvicultural projects and land reclamation.


4.2.2 The Use of Treated Waste-Water for Crop Irrigation.

The other by-product of conventional sewage treatment is effluent or waste-water. This is also rich in valuable nutrients especially nitrogen, and if treated (with chlorine, ozone or ultra-violet) it can be used for crop irrigation. For this to be effective for urban agriculture means that alternative, local, small-scale sewage treatment systems need to be used. One of these is described below.


Figure 4-3 Greenhouse-Based Solar Aquatic Treatment System - Errington, Vancouver Island, B.C. (courtesy of Eco-tek Wastewater Treatments)(Not available here)


4.2.3 Solar Aquatics Sewage Treatment Systems

Solar Aquatic sewage treatment duplicates the natural purifying processes of meadows and wetlands using bacteria, algae, plants and aquatic animals. The process is accelerated using controlled greenhouse conditions and hence use less space. This system can produce tertiary level treatment, using no harmful chemicals with no unpleasant odours and is a visual treat which attracts many visitors. Systems are up and running in Bear River, NovaScotia and in British Columbia. Eco-tek Wastewater Treatments Inc. are running a system near Parksville on Vancouver Island. The company estimates that 0.13 - 0.2 square feet of greenhouse space per imperial gallon of waste-water per day is required depending on the level of treatment. This system offers ways of reusing waste-water for growing food. Firstly, the treated water could be used to irrigate crops and hence reduce water consumption. Also, if a hydroponic vegetable system were incorporated into the greenhouse before the water was fully treated then the nutrients could help grow food, hydroponically for human consumption. The water would probably have to be treated with ozone to remove any harmful pathogens first. And as already mentioned above, fish are a vital component of the solar aquatic system and could be grown for human food use adding much needed protein into the diet.


4.2.4 Aquaculture

In their book Bio-shelters, Ocean Arks and City Farming , John and Nancy Todd who started the New Alchemy Institute on Cape Cod, recommend solar pisciculture (raising fish in tanks) as one viable means of protein production in the city. This, they say, can range from small scale, residential tanks in the living room to large scale commercial applications. They recommend the use of cylindrical translucent tanks that allow the development of algal-based ecosystems ideal for supporting fish. They have produced tilapia, catfish, trout, white amur, mirror carp and pacu feeding them on pressure-cooked organic waste and garbage. A five foot high by five foot diameter (1.5metre) tank produces up to sixty pounds of fish a year. These tanks also serve the function of trapping and storing solar energy and therefore help to regulate the temperature of a house.

The essential thing to remember when discussing any form of fish or livestock production for sustainable communities is that fish and animals are a long way up the food chain. The protein produced by them available for human consumption is therefore considerably less than that available from the food they are being fed. Therefore if we want aquaculture to make a contribution to reducing the ecological footprint of food production we cannot feed them with high grade protein that could be used for human consumption - this will only exacerbate the problem of excessive resource consumption. This is currently the situation with much fish-farming especially in the developed nations. In BC, salmon farmers use fish-feed made from inexpensive pollack or from grain to feed high price salmon. Although this makes perfect sense economically, it is ecologically ludicrous as we are losing rather than gaining valuable protein in the process. From a ecological standpoint then, we should only raise fish if we can feed them on what would otherwise be waste products and this is what makes the idea of utilising waste-water streams so attractive. After all, this not only represents a valuable source of nutrients but, at present, it is also contributing to a major pollution and economic problem i.e. how to safely treat and discharge this waste-water.


4.2.5 Grey-water reuse

Figure 4-4 Grey-water recycling system at C.K Choi building, University of British Columbia. (C. Oberlander) (Not available here)

Solar Aquatic systems can also be used just to treat grey-water (from sinks, showers and baths) as well and much less space is required for this than treating the total waste-water output as there are less nutrients to process. There are some restrictions about what sort of cleaning chemicals are used in the house. Grey-water treatment can also be achieved using storage tanks and reed-bed systems. The C.K. Choi Building at The University of British Columbia, a 30,000 sq. ft. office complex, uses such a system. A subsurface, grey-water recycling system with phragmite (tall grasses), cleanses the grey-water which is used for on-site irrigation. The building also utilizes composting toilets and urinals for human waste disposal which are perhaps the simplest solution to the problem of human liquid waste treatment and re-use.


4.2.6 Water Conservation

"The City of Vancouver has developed its Water Conservation Program to educate citizens about the principles and practices of natural cultivation of the land that conserves water. These methods include contouring of the ground, soil conditioning using compost, collection of rain water, the use of native plants, and passive watering."

Water shortages in 1996 meant that water restrictions were imposed in Vancouver from June 1st to September 30th. During that time sprinkling was allowed only twice a week. It is estimated that 40% of demand for water during the summer is for garden irrigation. Recognizing this, the City is selling subsidized, recycled, 75 gallon plastic rain-water barrels. They are available to Vancouver residents for $68.05 (half the regular price).

The City of Vancouver is also undertaking a Down-spout Disconnection Pilot Project. This project is looking at the feasibility of disconnecting residential rainwater down-pipes from the combined sewer system. The rainwater is simply discharged onto the yard where it soaks into the soil. This simple solution could redirect millions of gallons of rainwater from the, already stretched, combined sewer system and prevent untreated sewage entering False Creek, English Bay and the Fraser River.


Recommendations: - Residential Sewage (including black and grey water components) represents a huge potential source of nutrients and irrigation water for the production of food. For this resource to be safe and effective means that it needs to separated from the storm-water and industrial flows that can contaminate it to an unacceptable level. Encouraging local, small scale treatment systems can create a safe and easily accessible resource. Integrating treatment systems with production of food means that costly transportation of the material is not necessary. The fledging city policies of disconnecting down-spouts and subsidizing rain water barrels are good first steps in this direction. The adoption of biological treatment systems for sewage and grey water at a neighbourhood or individual building scale could further this cause. Builders and owners need incentives to start implementing these ideas. One way to achieve this would be to stop insisting on main sewer connection and deducting the sewage component of the municipal tax if a safe, local alternative can be demonstrated. This will require close cooperation between GVRD, health, engineering and planning departments to establish regulations that reflect new technologies and opportunities..


4.3 Re-using waste heat

The waste heat lost through the roof of a building is a valuable resource and should not be wasted. Rooftop gardens (with or without greenhouses) can make use of this heat to extend the growing season by as much as three weeks. In Vancouver's cool, temperate climate this is an important bonus to growers. Typically the temperature of the soil on a rooftop garden is 5-10 degrees Celsius higher than in the surrounding landscape.


Recommendations: - see section 1.1


5. Economic Incentives and Opportunities

Encouraging urban agriculture through economic incentives means creating a regulatory and taxation regime where the full-costs of producing food are recognized and accounted for. This is primarily a provincial and federal responsibility and means increasing taxes on resource consumption and penalties for pollution. We also need to take into account the detrimental health and ecological effects of the business-as-usual approach to food production and processing. Health problems (which represent a real cost to society) are caused by chemical residues in food, chemical inputs at the processing level, reduced nutritional quality as a result of transportation. processing, and the deliberate emphasis placed on appearance and durability of food as opposed to its nutritional content. There are also the unknown effects of genetic manipulation and food irradiation . Until these effects are fully accounted for the economic balance will be tipped in favour of the agri-business sector and away from the local, small scale organic producer. and food produced in a sustainable manner will be over-priced and under-valued. However, while we wait for higher levels of government to catch up, municipalities can encourage food produced in a responsible way through the following means:


5.1 Encouraging Job Creation

If urban agriculture is to provide full-time paying jobs then we need to think seriously about how to encourage a for-profit horticulture industry in the city. If urban horticulture is to become a major contributor to the city's food needs then we have to make land available for this purpose that will not have to compete with other higher value uses.


5.2 Capital and Credit

As urban agriculture becomes more sophisticated, lending institutions will become aware of the financial possibilities involved. However, until this happens difficulties in obtaining sufficient capital and credit to start an urban food production business may forestall any initiatives.


Recommendations: - Preferential tax rates could be given to urban food producers. For low-income citizens, the establishment of micro-credit enterprises such as those springing up in developing nations could be a great catalyst for small-scale urban food production.


5.3 Making food affordable and accessible

As pointed out earlier, the large proportion of the cost of food comes from the processing, marketing, storing and retail component of the food industry. The scales of production of agribusiness has made food more affordable for many people but this has come as the cost of health, jobs and sustainability. If we are to provide food produced in the urban environment that is cheap, healthy and nutritious then this food needs to travel more directly from producer to consumer. There are a number of ways to achieve this.

Growing some of your own food is, of course, a simple way to save money and produce extremely fresh food.

Over the last few years food box schemes have become very popular in urban areas. Food boxes usually supply organic fruit and vegetables (and other organic products) direct from the farmer or wholesaler to the consumer. The costs and profit of the retailer are thus eliminated. Many of these schemes actively promote the benefits of organic farming and where possible use local produce that benefits local producers. Vancouver has its own food bag scheme.

Community Supported Agriculture - CSA's are another growing phenomena that has great benefits for the small, organic farmer. Recognizing that small, local farmers are struggling to survive financially and at the mercy of fluctuating markets and the weather, community supported agriculture allows the community to share in some of the risks and benefits of farming. Consumers buy shares in the years produce at the beginning of the season and share in the harvest. The system often involves members of the community working for a few hours on the farm so as to increase the awareness of farming practices.

In the urban realm this same system could work very well. Consumers could buy shares in a market garden operation and help finance some of the start-up costs of the operation and share in some of the risks of an early experiment. They would have the benefit of seeing exactly where they food was produced and what methods were used and would have the ability to persuade growers to use ecologically benign methods.


5.4 Farmer's markets

The East Vancouver Farmer's Market, concentrating on the selling of locally produced, organic fruit, vegetables, mushrooms and crafts was started in the summer of 1995 in the car park of the Croatian Cultural Centre at Commercial Drive and 17th Ave.. Small scale local producers from the region paid a small amount to have a stall and market their produce. The project was extremely popular with the public and consequently is now an annual event. Establishing this market was not, however, without its bureaucratic problems. For example, the Vancouver Health Department was initially against the idea because they could not control the quality of the food being sold. There are also thriving farmers markets in Nelson, Mission, Southern Vancouver Island has several successful projects and there are plans for a South Vancouver Farmer's Market underway.

Farmer's markets are an excellent opportunity to encourage small, local, organic producers. They have an important community building capacity and can stimulate the local economy by providing opportunities for urban gardeners and crafts people, keeping wealth within the community rather than seeing it pour out to distant corporations. One of the most attractive qualities of these markets is the vitality they add to the public realm. The hustle and bustle of a market environment creates an exciting, dynamic place to be. Let us be clear though. If farmer's markets are to make a major contribution to the local economy and sustainability there has to be many more of them so that people can purchase their food locally without having to travel huge distances. They have to really challenge the virtual monopoly of supermarket chains in providing people's food.


Recommendations: - create a policy of actively encouraging weekly farmer's markets on city owned (and other) land so that everyone in the city has easy access to fresh locally produced food. This objective would be consistent with the objectives of CityPlan to have a city of neighbourhood centres where each centre offers the requirements for daily living. These should be true urban farmer's markets selling primarily fresh produce.


5.5 Food distributing co-operatives

In Japan, cooperatives have been set up that collect, distribute and sell the produce of thousands of allotment gardens. This is one way to make urban agriculture an economically vital activity and provide the market for food produced on a micro-scale that currently only exists in a very limited way.


5.6 Local Exchange Trading Systems

A Local Exchange Trading System (LETS) allows its members to trade with other members without the need for national currency. It is essentially a form of community money that goes beyond the limitations of barter and would fit in well with any urban agriculture project. Gardeners/producers could sell their produce to other members of the scheme who in turn could sell their labour to dig allotments or water when someone was away.


6. Educational, Social and Institutional Programs

6.1 Community Kitchens

Thirty-four Community Kitchens have sprung up in Vancouver recently. These are groups of interested individuals who gather to share in the cooking and eating of a meal together. It is a re-socializing of cooking and eating. Encouraging this form of activity can only help build community and cooperation and also help people make better food and nutrition choices by becoming collectively educated in the art of nutrition.


6.2 Food labeling

It is hard to regulate good practice but labeling food to show how and where it is produced at least allows people to make informed food choices and to support sustainable approaches to production. Food labeling is mostly the responsibility of the federal government. However, provincial legislation allows actors in the food industry to obtain certification that they follow prescribed practices (organic production for example), and to advertise (and label) their products accordingly. A separate act allows the province to establish more rigorous standards for processed foods than under federal legislation. Programs such as the provincial "BUY BC" campaign encourage people to purchase locally grown food and other products. It is possible that labeling certification could encourage the consumption of "Certified Grown in the City" products. Nutritional labeling could also be extended to cover meals bought from fast-food chains and restaurants.


6.3 School Curriculums

Incorporating gardening into the school curriculum and linking this with an understanding of how the food system operates is an essential step in getting people to understand the root of our food problems. Gardening can be used as the basis for teaching a number of subjects such as ecology and botany and zoology.


6.4 Demonstration Gardens

There are eight compost demonstration gardens in the GVRD. These demonstrate the principles of composting and growing vegetables using organic methods. They are a good way to teach the simple techniques of turning waste into food.


6.5 Vancouver Food Policy Organization

This is a coalition of organizations with an interest in developing a municipal food policy for Vancouver. It includes Farm Folk/City Folk society, Vancouver and Richmond Health Board, BC Ministry of Agriculture, Reach Community Health Centre, Chinese cultural Centre, BC Dietitians and Nutritionists Association, The Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society and the Council of Marketing Boards of BC. The hope is that eventually a well-funded and well staffed organization will be able to systematically address the problems of food insecurity in Greater Vancouver by acting as a liaison between various sectors, increasing the understanding of the food system, and community building around food issues.


7. Sustainable Food Production Techniques and Approaches

7.1 Organic Agriculture

The cornerstone of sustainable food production in the city is organic gardening. Organic agriculture, otherwise known as restorative agriculture, regenerative agriculture, ecological agriculture or bio-dynamic gardening, is a production technique that emphasizes the maintenance of soil fertility and productivity without resorting to synthetic chemical fertilisers and harmful pesticides. Soil fertility is maintained and improved using techniques of composting, animal manures, mulching, crop rotation, biologically fixed nitrogen and cover crops. Pests and disease are prevented using techniques such as biological pest control and beneficent plant pairings. Mulching is the use of organic materials such as straw, bark, paper, leaves around the base of plants to provide a protective covering that prevents excessive moisture evaporation and leaching of soil nutrients by heavy rain. The technique also prevents weeds and serves to add valuable organic matter to the soil, increasing it's ability to retain water.

The Organic Agricultural Products Certification Regulation under the Food Choice and Disclosure Act of British Columbia empowers the Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia (COABC) to be responsible for accrediting certification agencies. In BC strict guidelines for production operation and farm management exist. Only those farms certified by an approved certification agency (in this region British Columbia Association of Regenerative Agriculture -BCARA) are allowed to market and label their products as "organic" and attach the "BC Certified Organic" label.


7.2 Edible Landscaping

Edible landscaping is the conscious use of edible plants in the creation of a garden that is both aesthetically pleasing, nutritionally providing and lessens the use of harmful chemicals and resources. It is an approach to gardening that allows us to have both a beautiful landscape and healthy, fresh food at the same time. By the use of carefully selected plants it is possible to have a garden that provides a nutritionally significant portion of our food requirements, makes a significant contribution towards reducing water, fertilizer and pesticide use and is far more visually interesting and stimulating to the senses than a conventionally planted garden. Planting drought tolerant species (xeri-scaping) is a way of reducing the water requirement of our gardens.

This century has seen the whole scale substitution of food-producing plants with barren ornamental landscapes of lawn and shrubs. At the same time our edible fruit and nut trees that once lined city streets, have gradually been replaced with non-fruiting cultivars. For many years gardens have being developing away from the nutritious towards the purely ornamental. Rosalind Creasey, in her book Edible Landscaping, attributes what she calls the "edible complex" to several factors:

  1. The post W.W.II shift from rural to urban environments has disconnected us from the land

  2. the development of a highly efficient mechanized agribusiness industry that can produce the food we need with less than 5% of the population employed in agriculture has made backyard growing seem futile

  3. The control of the landscape by developers who have little interest or incentive to accommodate food production into their sub-divisions means that buyers inherit bland, lifeless yards which have been designed for minimum cost and maintenance requirements.

  4. We have inherited a very ordered, formal taste in landscaping from the seventeenth and eighteenth century ornamental gardens in which beauty was expressed in the form of manicured lawns, shaped shrubbery and flowering ornamentals.

The environmental cost of maintaining these artificial landscapes is enormous. In 1977, it was estimated, 200 million gallons of gasoline were used just for the power equipment to mow American lawns. Three million tons of fertilizer are used every year to keep these lawns green and, as much as India uses for its entire food production to feed 800 million people. The use of water to irrigate is equally shameful. We use drinking quality water to irrigate landscapes that are unsuitable for our climate. Despite a good supply of fresh drinking water in Vancouver, this does not come without a cost. Dams have to be built and maintained. The water has to be purified and piped many miles. The infrastructural system needed to accomplish this is phenomenally expensive. Rationing of supplies in summer months is becoming more frequent as population grows. Edible landscaping is an alternative approach to landscaping that can both mitigate these negative factors and produce a garden full of food in the bargain.


7.3 Hydroponic Growing

Hydroponic production is a half-century old method of cultivating plants using a soil-less medium. The true hydroponic method of growing plants in a water and nutrient solution is rarely used as it is more difficult to use than the more frequently used method of growing in a sand, gravel or vermiculite medium in beds or containers. The idea is to achieve maximum and uniform growth of plants by carefully controlling the amount of water and nutrients.

The advantages of this method are:

  1. does not require soil

  2. can use lightweight materials that may suit rooftop growing

  3. higher yields because of more rapid maturation of plants and more plants per unit area (no competition for nutrients)

  4. soil nutrients are not diminished so crop rotation is unnecessary.

  5. weeds are minimal as sterile media are used

  6. uniform results means greater marketability

  7. automation of process possible - less labour costs

  8. closed system means that pesticides and fertilisers are not washed into water table or streams.


These are real and tangible benefits for urban agriculture but they need to be weighed against the findings of an ecological footprint study. Ecological footprint analysis can reveal the danger of conventional economic analysis when comparing efficiencies. Yoshihiko Wada (1993) has compared the ecological footprint of conventional field production of tomatoes to that of hydroponic greenhouse production. He discovered that for the same growing areas (the amount of land that the plants themselves occupy) the productivity of hydroponic greenhouse production is 5 to 9 times that of field production, the revenues generated 8 to 13 times higher, and the profitabilities 2 to 9 times higher. However, when taking into account all the material and energy inputs and the land required to assimilate the waste products he found that the ecological footprint of hydroponic greenhouse production was 14 to 21 times higher than for field production. In other words, to produce 1000 tonnes of hydroponic tomatoes requires 14 to 21 times the amount of ecologically productive land than that required to produce 1000 tonnes of field tomatoes. This is mainly the ecologically productive land needed to assimilate the pollution generated by heating the greenhouses. Despite the economic efficiencies, hydroponic greenhouse production is grossly inefficient in an ecological sense. What we are seeing here is the distortion of the ecological truth by the economic system. Conventional economic accounting simply does not account for the full ecological cost of different types of production. The increased profitability of the greenhouse farmers arises from their ability to exploit subsidized resources such as cheap energy.


7.4 Permaculture

Perhaps the most comprehensive approach to small-scale sustainable agriculture is the Permaculture system developed and expounded by Bill Mollison. "Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive eco-systems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems." Permaculture is a comprehensive philosophy, system of ethics and ecologically restorative techniques - many common to organic farming practices in different parts of the world but brought together in a uniquely integrated way.


8. How much of our food can be produced in an urban setting?

Health and Welfare Canada lists the recommended consumption of items from each of the four major food groups. These groups are

  1. Grain Products (5-12 servings per day)

  2. Vegetables and Fruit (5-10 servings per day)

  3. Milk products (2-4 servings per day)

  4. Meat and alternatives (2-3 servings per day)

All of these products could be produced in an urban setting. Even goats can be substituted for cows to give high quality milk products. Raising beef cattle is obviously not practical but we could substitute urban farmed fish as protein and chickens could provide eggs and meat. However, our goal is not complete self-sufficiency but a more sustainable food system and that means choosing which crops are best grown in the city, which are best acquired from the local bio-region and which through choice or necessity we import from other areas. Rather than letting the actors in the international trade market-place make these decisions, the imperative of sustainability forces us to consider factors beyond those of pure economics. Sustainability demands that we grow as much of our food as possible proximally to where it is consumed. However, it should become clear from the analysis below that we cannot hope to grow all our present food needs at the local level so our best approach would be one that selected the most beneficial crops to grow in the city and allowed others to be grown further afield. Most fresh fruits, vegetables, salad crops and herbs are easily damaged and quickly perishable and therefore require extensive packaging, refrigeration and regular transportation to maintain quality and fresh supplies if grown far away. Grains, on the other hand, are much hardier and are capable of withstanding long journeys, extensive storage and minimal packaging. Grains are therefore much more suited to being grown further afield. Grains also have substantially lower yields and are therefore not suited to the intensive, high-yield requirements of urban food-production. The following analysis will concentrate on yields of common vegetables to gauge how much food we can realistically grow in the city and which methods are most suitable.


8.1 Vegetables - Potential yields of different methods

  1. Conventional horticultural and field methods produce, on average, 15,700lbs of vegetables/acre. Therefore to produce adequate vegetables for a community of 5000 people for a year (based on consumption of 320 lbs/person/year) would require 102 acres of land.

  2. Jeavons (researching in California) has shown that a complete nutritionally balanced diet can be produced using an area as small as 2,800 sq. ft. (270sq metres). Therefore complete, adequate nutrition for a community of 5000 people would require 300 acres. The year's supply of vegetables and fruit for one person (320 pounds) can be produced on an area as small as 100 sq. ft. (9.5 sq. metres). A community of 5000 people using Jeavon's method would therefore require 10.5 acres. This, however, assumes a high level of gardening skill and the figures are for Californian climates so we need too revise these figures upwards. These high yields are achieved using Jeavon's deep bed cultivation method which allows plants to be grown much closer together than conventional spacings. He recommends cultivating the soil to a depth of 24 inches using the double dig method so that the roots of plants are able to penetrate much deeper into the soil where they can find increased nutrients and water for rapid growth.

  3. Hydroponic greenhouse methods of cultivation can be used very intensively because the nutrient supply and climate is artificially controlled. This method can produce 6-20 times the yield of conventional methods and 4 times the yield of even Jeavon's French Biodynamic Intensive method. The year's supply of fresh fruit and vegetables (for one person) could probably be grown using only 25 sq. ft. of greenhouse space (2.64 acres for 5000 people). However, as discussed in section 2.1.5, this increased yield is at the expense of a far larger ecological footprint. Therefore we should probably not encourage this form of agriculture unless it can be supported by waste heat and waste products from the city such as the waste heat from buildings, solid waste, and sewage or from passive solar gain. Eco-tek Ltd. are currently experimenting with this novel approach. We should consider that even high input hydroponic growing may be better than importing our food from distant countries with better climates and all the transportation related pollution and potentially poor growing practices this entails.


Table 8-1 Yields of selected vegetables using different growing methods.(Not available here)


9. Problems with Urban Agriculture

9.1 Land Availability

Competition for land in the city is fierce. Therefore the amount of open, undeveloped land available for food production is small. It may seem that growing food, because it does not generate a large income stream for the amount of land used, is not economically viable. However there are three reasons why city land might become available for use by urban farmers.

  1. We should remember that not all uses in the city are determined by purely financial means. Parks exist because we have made a conscious choice not to develop these green spaces for the sake of our health and relaxation.

  2. There are also many spaces that are simply not suitable for building and some of these may be suitable for urban agriculture.

  3. Temporarily vacant land, such as vacant city lots awaiting development, may offer an opportunity for short term food production.


9.1.1 A list of spaces where we might grow food in the urban environment.


9.2 Uncertainties of Tenure

Establishing a garden or small farm is a time, capital and labour intensive occupation. There needs to be a guarantee of tenure to any temporary tenant to make this investment worthwhile. Planners can help facilitate lease agreements between tenants and land-owners.


9.3 Lack of Economic Incentives

Food is cheap - too cheap many say because the price does not properly reflect the subsidies that have been used to support commercial agriculture and the damage done to the environment by energy intensive and polluting farming practices. Until the full-costs of production and waste assimilation are accounted for, ecologically damaging products will continue to be cheaper than responsibly grown organic products. Growers also tend to dump certain products on the market in order to gain market share and force other growers out of business. Food pricing is a highly charged political issue. The costs of food to consumers are determined by many factors some of which are: The level of government subsidies; the costs of inputs to the production process especially fossil fuels and fertilizers (affected by the price of oil); the scale of production; the success of the years harvest; the price paid for the crop by the wholesaler (Wheat board etc.); the seasonality of the crop; the costs of transportation; the price of labour in the producer country/region; the wholesalers profit margin; and the retailers profit-margin.


9.4 Contaminated land

Disused industrial sites do offer the potential for food production but great care needs to be taken in properly testing and remediating these sites. Partnerships between government, academic institutions and the private sector may prove fruitful in these situations. Bio-remediation (using plants to take up toxic waste is a current area of research that has great potential)


9.5 Incompatible land uses

Food production can be seen as a noxious use, detrimental to the public good. For example smells from mushroom growers or small animals may be unacceptable for local residents. Care also needs to be exercised so that any chemicals or organic fertilizers used do not pose a threat to human health through water contamination and air pollution.


9.6 Perceptions

One of the major obstacles to growing a lot of food in the city is that many people think of it as an inappropriate use. Although public perceptions do seem to be changing, an educational program to highlight the benefits of urban agriculture is necessary for broader public acceptance. This problem is highlighted by the mixed reaction to the Park's Board "Community Gardens Policy". Although the majority supported the idea of forming community gardens in park space, many people felt that gardens were an inappropriate use in a park because they were a private use in a public space.


9.7 Policy/Regulatory Barriers

Certain city by-laws and zoning regulations impede the development of sustainable food production systems. In most areas (all but RA-1, HA-1 and HA-1a zones) of the city, commercial greenhouses, field crops and nurseries are not an allowed use is not an allowed use. The by-law against keeping small farm animals in the city (see appendix C) reduces the capacity to recycle waste and produce a protein component to the diet. The insistence that all residential dwellings be connected to the mains sewer system impedes the ability of forward-thinking individuals to do their bit for sustainability. The flat-rate for most residential household water means that there is little incentive to adopt conservation strategies. The GVRD has plans to implement water metering in all municipalities but this is a costly endeavour in the short run.


9.8 Theft and vandalism

Many community gardens report substantial losses from theft and vandalism. This can discourage gardeners from bothering to garden at all. Reports from Montreal suggest that those gardens with overlooking residential buildings have far fewer problems. Integrating community gardens into housing developments may reduce this problem as will clearly stating the unacceptability of minor pilfering from community gardens.


9.9 Solar Access

In dense urban spaces land may well be in shade for substantial periods of time each day. Most fruits, herbs and vegetables need good solar exposure in order to produce a heavy crop. It is therefore necessary to consider solar access when reviewing designs if there is any intention of growing food. Rooftop gardens are one solution that creates maximum exposure to sunlight - so much so that partial shading may be necessary.


9.10 Pollution

Air pollution, as well as a major contributing factor to human ill-health may also be detrimental to plant growth if too concentrated. Plants, however, can have a beneficial cleansing affect on the air. Heavy metal contamination of food plants may be a problem in areas of high vehicle traffic.


9.11 Lack of Skill

Lack of gardening skill may be a real problem in the city where most people have had no experience of agriculture. Many people are of course adept at vegetable gardening but the degree of skill varies widely and so do the results obtained. Gardening without pesticides and chemicals may require more thought than its chemically intensive cousin.


9.12 Availability of credit/capital

The lack of capital and lines of credit for urban food production activity may well impede its growth as a realistic alternative to importing food. It may be possible to set up credit specifically for this type of operation - an urban farm credit agency.


10. Conclusion & Recommendations for an Urban Agriculture Policy

It should now be clear that urban food production can and does offer significant benefits to a city and is especially suited to achieving the aims of sustainable development. If the potential of urban agriculture is going to be realized we have to do much more than we are at present to encourage food production in the city. What is needed is a municipal food and agriculture plan and policy for the city that focuses on encouraging urban agriculture, integrating the various componenets necessary to make it sustainable and regulates against bad practice where necessary. This will require some overhauling of existing regulatory practice as well as cooperation between a number of city departments and the involvement of non-governmental organizations.

Broadly speaking the principles on which a policy for sustainable urban agriculture is based should be:


Growing food closer to the point of consumption:

  1. Reduces the city's ecological footprint by reducing the amount of food-related transportation, required packaging,

  2. Increases food security

  3. Make the food system more visible

  4. Creates more jobs and fosters local economic development.

  5. Promotes cooperation and builds a sense of community in neighbourhoods

  6. Increases low-income people's access to healthy nutritious food


Micro-scale efficiency means:

  1. Polyculture is preferred over mono-culture

  2. The small-scale efficiencies of home-production are recognized

  3. Jobs are valued over pure economic efficiencies


A purely organic approach to urban agriculture:

  1. Reduces the amount of harmful pollutants and toxins released into the environment

  2. Means that urban wastes, once seen as a problem of pollution, can now be recycled in the food production process and indeed are necessary to maintaining the fertility of the soil resource

  3. Valuable wildlife habitat is protected and created rather than destroyed

  4. Produces healthy, nutritious food.


Perhaps most important is the recognition that food is complex subject that has huge inter-related impacts on many aspects of the city and its inhabitants. In a world of severely conflicting messages about food, eating and nutrition and a deep concern for the issues raised on the sustainability agenda, some sense may be drawn from a cross-disciplined approach that emphasize links and cooperation between the many actors involved and affected.

Unlike the situation in many developing countries where lack of regulation can lead to problems of food safety, Vancouver suffers from over-regulation that impedes our ability to integrate food production and waste management activities in a way that contributes to the sustainable development agenda. Reviewing some of these policies is a necessary first step in encouraging sustainable urban agriculture because it allows interested individuals to demonstrate new practices.

Growing more food in the city involves encouraging both the expansion of existing initiatives and developing new approaches and opportunities. Some of these have been highlighted throughout the body of this report and could include:


10.1 Policies and System Catalysts


10.2 Regulations - bylaws

10.3 Projects


10.4 City Practice


10.5 Design Considerations


10.6 Research and Development


10.7 Education/Training


10.8 Financial


10.9 Marketing


10.10 Public Education


Appendix

The following sections of this report are not included here.

11. Appendix A - Organizations Involved in Urban Food Production in the Vancouver Area

12. Appendix B - Glossary of Terms

13. Appendix C - Legislation, Policies and Guidelines Having a Bearing on The Growing of Food in Vancouver.

14. References





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Revised June 29, 2002

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture

cityfarmer@gmail.com