This is a great read for anyone interested in urban agriculture.
Michael Ableman shares the story behind his latest project, Sole Food. These street farms have transformed vacant and contaminated land in Vancouver, whilst growing artisan-quality fruit and vegetables, and providing jobs and empowering people who are living with and chronic mental health problems.
To date, they produce over 25 tons of fresh food yearly, across 4 urban farms equating to 2 hectares (5 acres). They supply over 30 restaurants, 5 farmers markets, and a CSA programme. They also donate $20,000 of food per year to community kitchens and provide 25 jobs. But it’s not just about the food.
It’s also about the farmers. “While Vancouver’s prosperity is celebrated, its concentration of poverty and raw desperation endures in the midst of the polished and the preened.”
Michael sets the scene with how much the area needs this, and the choice of site shows this. It’s close enough for local people to work there, and in a highly-populated area so that the whole community can see it and potentially be inspired.
After an MBA programme at Queen’s University conducted research on the farming practices at Sole Food, they found that for every dollar spent on employing those who are ‘hard to employ’, there was a $1.70 combined saving to the prison and legal system, health care system, social assistance networks, and the environment through carbon sequestration, as well as energy and transportation benefits.
Amongst the stories of how the farm came to be, and the stories of those it has benefited, Michael gives what he calls, ‘mini-essays’ which are his insights into the farming industry from his 40-plus-years of experience.
Permaculture principles are embedded throughout, such as the art of observation, which Michael feels is vital. He carries a pocket-sized notebook with him whenever walking the farms, to note any differences, no matter how small.
I really like the mix of Michael’s farming knowledge with the story of how Sole Food came to be. It provides the real ups and downs for us to learn from, especially for those wanting to start their own similar project.
Rozie Apps is assistant editor at PM