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Meet Your Urban Farmer, short film series from Vancouver, Canada

There's a chapter in my book on Vancouver, Canada. I describe it as being one of the greenest cities I've ever been to:

In other cities, I had grown accustomed to creeping along hte streets looking for a square of green that would let me know that I had finally found the urban food garden I was looking for. In Vancouver, I often had to confirm that I was in the right community garden, on that block!" (excerpt from my book Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution, p. 162.)

Well, this morning, a friend emailed me a link to a great new short film series from Vancouver called Meet Your Urban Farmer. From the looks of the trailer, this is going to be a look at the people in Vancouver growing food in unexpected places. I am looking forward to the release of the installments starting March 2012. I wrote about SOLEfood farm's on Hastings Street in the Vancouver chapter of the book. Here's a link to the blog posts I wrote immediately after my interviews with Seann Dory. If you can grow tomatoes, peppers and French Breakfast radishes like this on a rehabilitated garbage-infested parking lot on the Downtown East Side, then urban ag is most certainly able to change the world:)



Building a Local Food System in Calgary, Alberta at Calgary Eats, pt. 1

Photo taken BEFORE the event even started!The City of Calgary is in the process of building a food system assessment through the Office of Sustainability and the Calgary Food Committee. As part of the process, they organized a free public event called Calgary Eats at the Ant Hill Community Centre building in the Kensington neighbourhood. It was an information sharing and gathering event with 40 booths of local producers and other people already working in the Calgary local foods arena, along with two panel discussions.

The event was wildly successful...with about 1000 Calgarians going through the all-day event. I was really happy to participate in one of the panels, not only because I was happy to share my experiences and anecdotes about local food systems I've seen around the world, but because I love being in the right place at the right time. I definitely had that feeling yesterday. For those who didn't have the opportunity to be there, he's a little recap of the day's events and highlights. (Please feel free to email me or leave a comment on the blog with your comments if you attended, or links to other recaps of the day.)

First of all, a huge thanks to the Calgary Food Committee and the City of Calgary office of sustainability for inviting me to speak at the event. And thanks to the Hotel Arts for the generous hospitality in putting me up in such high-style. I love this boutique hotel in downtown Calgary.

From Hotel Arts, it was a short walk to the Calgary city transit bus and a 10 minute ride to the Ant Hill Community Centre. Already by 10 a.m. the place was filling up. The event had been publicized through the usual local food channels, but it was also on the local morning tv news, which I think helped diversify the crowd.

By the time the first panel discussion began, it was standing room only in the hall, which is great, because the chef panel had some rather important things to say.

Julie Van Rosendaal, cookbook author, writer, blogger at, and tv cooking show host was the moderator of "Meet the Chefs." Connie DeSousa, chef/owner Charcut restaurant, Andrew Hewson, chef instructor at SAIT culinary arts, Cam Dobranski chef and owner of Muse Restaurant, Brasserie Kensington, Kensington Wine Bar and AKA wine bar, and Paul McGreevy of Craft Beer Market were the chefs.

Cam Dobranski told the crowd that he does what he can, like the other chefs on the panel, to build a strong local food system by sourcing and showcasing quality local products. Bu the cards are stacked against the small owner/restaurateur. Not only do the chefs have to invest a tremendous amount of time sourcing local ingredients (because the distribution channels are not there yet to bring efficiencies to local foods) but then they are burdened with crippling taxes and regulations that eat away at the tiniest of profit margins. (Is it any wonder that Alberta is so dominated by chain-restaurants? They have economies of scale for their food supplies and have a chain-restaurant's advertising power to influence diners to a level that no independent can.) Cam said that he knows that when customers see prices on the menus, they might think that its a gouge, but independents are working like mad just to stay in business. And many don't succeed because it is so hard, the hours are so long, and the payoff is just not what it would be for the same amount of time and commitment in other businesses. He told the crowd that what chefs like him need is for the community to support and dine at his restaurants so that he can keep supporting the local farmers and producers in the Calgary area. In other words, keep those dollars flowing in a local economy if you want local food, local farmers, and local products.

  • My two cents: I couldn't agree more. There are a number of excellent models and movements out there that are going to influence this discussion. And hopefully get people thinking about the huge potential effect that their everyday decisions, like where to go to eat, where to buy books, where to buy any goods and services. In Edmonton, the Live Local / Shop Local / Original Fare collaborative has been quite successful at raising awareness of what keeping dollars circulating locally can do. And in a broader sense, the Slow Money movement is happening. While this is a type of raising capital and investing in local food businesses at the moment, I see that it will get people to think about how their money could be spent, locally or otherwise. And soon people will realize the huge reserve of capital that we collectively have even as a community or a city. And that WE have the power to change our economic models simply by changing our spending habits one dollar at a time. The prosperity will follow where our dollars go, so we simply have to send our dollars in a different direction if we want local food, local independent restaurants supporting those local food systems, and providing us with amazing meals and dining experiences.

Andrew Hewson, chef instructor at SAIT culinary arts program, talked about the multiplier effect that teaching the next generation of chefs is going to have on the city. SAIT also has a food garden associated with its culinary education program to promote what Hewson calls "culinary-agro-literacy" among its chefs. Read about the school garden in Avenue Calgary magazine.

One of the ideas from the crowd was that people wanted to know how to use local ingredients and asked the chefs if they would do a local cooking show even on the web.

  • My two cents: Great idea! Maybe something like what chef Rod Butters of RauDZ Regional Table of Kelowna, BC, does. He's got his Homeplate cooking shows on iTunes and on the web.

I was part of the second panel discussion "From Farm to Plate." Lots to say about what was said, so I'll save it for another post. Soon!

It was nice to catch up with "old" friends. Cam and I go way back to his Edmonton days.


Calgary Eats! Free public event in Calgary, Alberta to discuss and learn about local food

Calgary Food Council is hosting a free public event for people to gather, learn and discuss local food systems.  I'll be speaking at the 12:30 p.m. panel and I'm bringing a big slide show of urban agriculture and food gardens I've visited around the globe for the book. The event begins at 10 a.m. and runs to 4 p.m. Spread the word.

Here's some info from the Calgary Food Committee themselves about it:

This coming Saturday January 28th the Calgary Food Committee is holding a public event at the Ant Hill Building in Kensington. The CalgaryEATS! event features a wide range of players in our local food system. This an eating and learning event that is meant to engage a broad cross-section of Calgarians around the different aspects of our food system and look at ways that we can make it better.
With over 40 vendors, interactive demonstrations, panel discussions, live music, activities for kids and many opportunities to purchase and eat this event is shaping up to be big!

You can also visit form more information. Our twitter hashtag is #yycfood and we have a facebook event here.


Urban Agriculture, Permaculture, Food Security and Cuba with The Urban Farmer

La Patria, urban farm, CubaI've known Ron Berezan, aka The Urban Farmer, for many years. He was instrumental in breathing life back into Edmonton's community gardens over a decade ago, and he has been helping people all across Canada transform urban yards into beautiful permaculture and food-growing spaces.

In September, we were both up in Yellowknife to do our respective talks at The Territorial Farmers' Association's Fall Harvest event, a gathering of a good portion of the Northwest Territories' community gardeners and urban farmers. Ron gave two fantastic presentations on "Lessons in Food Security" "Transform your Yard," which I particularly enjoyed for the lessons on permaculture design. I took notes and am planning a few changes for my garden come spring.

Of particular (timely) interest, Ron organizes food security, permaculture and urban agriculture tours of Cuba. He's extremely well-connected in the Cuban Association of Agricultural Technicians and Foresters (ACTAF) and the Antonio Nunez Jiminez Foundation for Nature and Man (FANJ). (I've met people in both of these camps while I was in Cuba and just mentioning Ron's name brought a smile to their faces and warm invitations.)

Ron has two terrific tours of Cuba coming up: January 30 – February 13, 2012 (Western Cuba) and February 20 – March 5, 2012 (Eastern Cuba).

Both trips will offer a full itinerary of visits to organic farms, urban agriculture projects, natural, cultural and historic sites, and meetings with the “movers and shakers” in Cuba’s agro-ecological movement today. This is a very exciting time to be visiting this passionate and beautiful country that continues to forge such a unique path for itself. Rest assured that if you chose to accompany us on this adventure, you will have an experience that will be far richer than the typical tourist beach holiday. -- from The Urban Farmer newsletter, October 7, 2011

I've been to Cuba twice and it opened my eyes and mind to the possibilities of low-tech, high-output sustainable food production and truly local food systems. Cuba is literally decades ahead on urban agriculture, permaculture, alternative energies, and ingenious sustainable food production techniques. As a bonus, you also get to immerse yourself in a culture that takes music and dancing very seriously.

For more info on The Urban Farmer's Organic Cuba 2012 tours, click here.


Bill C-474, Triffids, and the genetically modified / engineered food debate we're NOT having

In early 2011, I had myself in a knot about all the genetically engineered foods that were being developped, tested, grown and distributed in Canada. (This is nothing new, but the load of GM crops and ingredients in our diets had reached a bit of critical mass for me and it was starting to really make me crazy that the government-industrial ag line was that it was a de facto sitatuation at that point, so why get all hysterical about it?)  I wrote a couple of snotty blog posts about it. But it was far from being out of my system.

It's not that I'm against science, technology or building better mousetraps. I've got a medicine cabinet full of pharmaceuticals that I will take at the very slighest hint of a cold or nasty virus that even thinks of settling into my head, sinus or gut. But it's my choice to gulp a handful of drugs, and the contents of those drugs are very clearly stated on the little plastic bottles. With genetically modified or engineered foods, our governments have decided that we don't need to know what is in our food. Apparently, that conversation was between the global food giants and our governments. We weren't invited to the debate on whether we want them, whether we should have them, and what the potential consquences of tinkering with the DNA of the sustance of our lives might be. We've entered the era of genetically modified foods (plants AND animals) without ever having the conversation.

I pitched an article on Canada's love affair with GM foods to the editors of the fabulous new magazine, Eighteen Bridges. As it turns out, my outrage over the lack of GM-food labelling and lessons not-learned from the recent past in GM crop development was the first in what will be a series of columns. My articles won't always be about my pet project of bringing to light our reckless destruction of 10,000 of open-source agriculture by privatizing plant and animal DNA. Promise. I might not even write about food each issue, for that matter. I suppose I'll figure it out as I go, but for now, you are welcome to click here and read Whither the Wheat, pages 60-61, in Eighteen Bridges, Winter 2011.