1978 – City Farmer Evolved from 6-month Federal Program

Some of the Conservation Centre staff, pictured above, took a fact finding trip to visit ‘alternative energy’ projects happening in Washington and Oregon. Those in the photo include Bob Woodsworth, John Olsen, Michael Levenston, John McBride, Tony Puddicombe, Gordon Holyer and Anne McLean. Spring/summer 1978.

Some of the Conservation Centre staff, pictured above, took a fact finding trip to visit ‘alternative energy’ projects happening in Washington and Oregon. Those in the photo include Bob Woodsworth, John Olsen, Michael Levenston, John McBride, Tony Puddicombe, Gordon Holyer and Anne McLean. Spring/summer 1978.

City Farmer was born in 1978 at the Vancouver Community Conservation Centre (VCCC), a six-month project created by Canada’s Federal Ministry of Mines, Energy and Resources set up to teach people about ‘energy conservation’.

Dana Weber, project leader of the Vancouver Centre, wrote a summary report in September of 1978 recounting the accomplishments of the Centre.

Excerpts from the Report:

Urban food raising. Since this became, toward the end of the project, its highest-profile activity, perhaps it would be useful to set it in some kind of context. Urban agriculture, specifically, isn’t mentioned in any of our early plans. What we did realize from the outset however, is that Vancouver, is the province’s primary energy user, and it was pointed out as early as the project leader training session that rural areas bitterly resented the environmental costs they had to pay so that the metropolis could have energy. The Vancouver CCC, therefore, ought to concentrate on ways of changing end-use patterns in the urban area. We had originally thought of transportation as an area where significant energy savings could be realized. We talked of promoting bikeways, greater use of public transportation, innovative forms of ‘paratransit’ etc. Michael Levenston, who had worked on establishing a bikeway system in Peterborough, Ontario began to look into the possibilities for Vancouver.

At about this time Bob Woodsworth joined the project and had noted that one of his main areas of interest was energy use in the food system. In the course of exploring this issue, he and Michael Levenston assembled a fair amount of information about solar greenhouses. At this time California lettuce was selling in Vancouver for $1.19 a head. Lorne Parton wrote a column about growing your own all year round in a (conventionally heated) greenhouse. Bob and Michael wrote back extolling the virtues and economics of solar greenhouses, and the ensuing dialogue in the Province resulted in a great number of requests for information on greenhouses. They assembled a package of information, which included a bibliography, illustrations and a study and design booklet by Brace Research. It began to look as though food raising and related energy use was an issue that might capture public imagination.

Pragtree Farm, Washington

Pragtree Farm, Washington

15% of Canada’s energy is used to put food on our tables. Energy is used everywhere in the food system from preparing the soil with fertilizers to cooking meals on the stove. Urban agriculture, the raising of food in the city, by city dwellers saves energy used in the food system. Transportation costs are removed and labour intensive methods of cultivation conserve fossil fuels. Metropolitan Vancouver has a population of 1,172,000. Many of these people grow some of their own food, but many more don’t, though they have front and back lawns or balcony space at their disposal.

Note: We tried to use urban gardening as an entry vehicle for discussing the whole range of energy conservation (ie. Lawnmowers as unnecessary gadgets; labour intensive activity linked to bicycles etc.)

By July some of us at the Vancouver Centre conceived of a newspaper that would deal with the subject of urban food production from an energy conservation point of view. The first issue came out at the end of July and the second at the end of August (1978). Both received a very positive response. The paper attempts to interest the public by showing them examples of successful Vancouver city farmers. It also reports on political issues that affect the city farmers (there has been a great deal of controversy lately about a particular woman in Vancouver who raises chickens in defiance of city by-laws), and products and information that are of use to them. Vancouver has a unique climate in Canada for producing food and therefore, the articles are written with the use of local research. This is a point which Eastern Canadians, designers of federal programs in particular, might do well to note. City Farmer succeeded because it addressed issues which were relevant to Vancouverites and adapted the overall theme of energy conservation to meet local concerns. Certainly, people were also interested in things like home insulation, but in this climate it did not inspire people the way it might in Eastern Canada.

See the complete report here.

 

Michael Levenston