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Economy of scale is one of the main principles behind the overwhelming post-war economic growth of the West, but this model, the poster child of modern business development, is proving problematic in many aspects of food production.

Factory farming has critics on many fronts, from issues of animal welfare to watershed contamination to pharmaceutical overuse to land use issues to food safety to epidemic disease spread. Large-scale vegetable production has its own woes, most centred around the swath cut by infrequent, but wide-reaching bacterial contamination. And grain farmers are discovering, to their dismay, that it may be impossible to grow large enough to make their industry profitable.

There are many examples of food producers being successful going in the other direction. While some organic farms are competing with conventional farms in size, most take pride in being small in scale. Heirloom varieties and ‘sustainable agriculture’ are also in the news as small-scale farmers find their niche. Here are two food production practices that are in the news but not yet mainstream, and are quietly feeding Vancouverites in our own backyard(s).

Wade Teulon is a Vancouver-based agricultural scientist planting the seeds of agricultural revolution one backyard at a time. The founder of CityFarmBoy, an urban farming collective, he hopes to grow a successful enterprise utilising unused plots of backyard land contributed by participating homes. This year, his first in business, Teulon is farming 2200 sq. ft. in four gardens, and selling the produce at farmers’ markets. He hopes to recruit a further 15 or so plots of 500 sq. ft. minimum in order to make his business viable. Which doesn’t seem like much, but…

…[H]e reckons he would have a successful business on his hands that also would provide homeowners throughout the Lower Mainland with a living, growing example of just how productive sustainable city farming can be. Because with a growing season in southwestern B.C. that lasts up to nine months — from March to November — the potential is limitless.

“My mission statement is to promote this way of farming as an environmentally positive way to grow food,” he says.

Teulon got the idea from a similar practice in Cuba, which now provides up to 50% of the country’s produce through small urban plots. This concept is very important, and will become moreso, because a) this is essentially brand-new farmland, in an era where viable farmland is scarce; and b) in our era of peak oil, reducing our ecological footprint by utilising food sources closer to consumers can only be a good thing.

The Vancouver Fruit Tree Project wants your fruit! This Vancouver-based charitable society organises volunteers to pick the extra fruit on privately-owned fruit trees, then donates the harvest to groups that feed the needy.

Our idea is simple: we build communities and strengthen food security using local backyard fruit. We connect people who have excess fruit from their backyard fruit trees with those who have the time and energy to harvest it. Most of the harvested fruit is donated to community organizations and individuals in need. We also are partnered with Community Kitchens to offer canning workshops; skills which are quickly being lost in our urban environment.

Their model is based on similar projects throughout the world, a remarkable idea that makes use of existing resources to distribute healthy (and free) produce that would otherwise go to waste. 

Other news and resources:

CityFarmer.org, a Vancouver-based organisation founded in 1978, provides resources, education and a demonstration garden related to urban farming, composting, eco-friendly food production and other issues. 

The 100 Mile Diet is an initiative of Vancouverites James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith, who wrote a book and created a website based on their experience of attempting to live for a year eating only food that was grown within 100 miles of their home.

UPDATED: Props to posters on the Raw Food Support Forum for posting links to some other fruit and food sharing projects:

Fallen Fruit is a transnational activist project to map the locations of ‘public fruit’.

Earth Matters – Fruit Tree Project is a harvesting project in Nelson, BC similar to the Vancouver version!

UPDATED November 2007:

Urban Agriculture is the massive urban farming study hosted on FoodSecurity.org.

15 Responses to “Urban farming and other news”

  1. Cherry says:

    Thanks for dropping by my blog. I don’t know about there but in my country it’s very very common for many houses to have some fruits plants :).

  2. Cherry, your website and your story are very inspiring, thank you very much for visiting! Good luck.

  3. [...] recent post Urban farming and other news is one of the most popular on the site, and it touches on an important topic, food security. [...]

  4. [...] of consumers takes most of the profit out of food production, which, as I said in my blog post Urban farming and other news, is an artificial business model [...]

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