Growing vegetables & optimism
Michael Ableman's Street Farm celebrates the transformation of asphalt into market gardens.
September 15th, 2016
How the greening of 4.5 acres in downtown Vancouver has recovered land and people.
The Sole Food Street Farms initiative in Vancouver has been described by its innovators as North America’s largest urban farm project, boasting an annual yield of 50,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables from five paved sites, 4.5 acres in total, employing 75 people from 2009.
It all happens amid the asphalt and squalor of the Lower Track of Canada’s most expensive city (the urban area near Main and Hastings is not called the Downtown Eastside anymore).
Dr. Gabor Maté calls it “a great antidote to pessimism.”
Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson says, “It’s an ingenious use of space that has been vacant or otherwise discarded.”
During the program’s seventh growing season, co-founder and director Michael Ableman has published Street Farm: Growing Food, Jobs, and Hope on the Urban Frontier (Chelsea Green Publishing $33.20) to celebrate an initiative that he says operates on a scale unprecedented in North America.
A book launch with high profile chefs at Main & Terminal will be held on October 6, emceed by Fred Lee. Entry is $175 per person.
According to publicity materials, Sole Food pays $300,000 in annual wages to employees including 25 individuals dealing with drug addiction and mental illness.
“If you stretch your concept of what a family is, move beyond the stereotype of Mom, Dad and the kids,” said Ableman, “and you could say that the Sole Food farms and the community of farmers and eaters that rely on us are just that—a family. And for many of our staff, this family may be the only one they have ever had.”
All crops are grown in soilfilled growing boxes. It is claimed the overall yield for this growing system is 15 to 25 times higher than conventional “open field” growing systems.
A recipient of the 1997 Environmental Leadership Awards and the 2001 Stewards of Sustainable Agriculture award, Michael Ableman previously published Fields of Plenty: A Farmer’s Journey In Search of Real Food and the People Who Grow It (Raincoast, 2005) and From the Good Earth, On Good Land.
A founder of the Center for Urban Agriculture in California, he has worked on and advised similar projects in North America and the Caribbean, including a farm at the Jordan Downs housing project in Watts, California and food gardens at a Santa Barbara AIDS hospice on an eleven-acre farm. Also a photographer and a lecturer, he is the subject of a 2001 PBS documentary, Beyond Organic, narrated by Meryl Streep.
The subject of articles and reportage from National Geographic, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, The Utne Reader, Gourmet Magazine,and the L.A. Times, Ableman has received the 2001 “Sustie” Award for his work in sustainable agriculture, Eating Well magazine’s 1995 Food Hero Award and the 1997 Environmental Leadership Award from the governor of the state of California.
He now lives and farms at the 120-acre Foxglove Farm on Salt Spring Island.
From the Good Earth, On Good Land: A Celebration of Growing Food Around the World (Abrams 1993)
On Good Land: The Autobiography of an Urban Farm (Chronicle Books 1998)
Fields of Plenty: A Farmer’s Journey In Search of Real Food and the People Who Grow It (Raincoast 2005).
Street Farm: Growing Food, Jobs, and Hope on the Urban Frontier (Chelsea Green Publishing / UTP 2016) $33.20 978-1-60358-602-3
COVER PHOTO: Portrait of Jesus by Michael Ableman from the book, Street Farm: Growing Food, Jobs and Hope on the Urban Frontier