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By Kim Peterson
Downtown Vancouver is a bit of a concrete jungle, so it might surprise fans of local produce that one of the most innovative examples of urban farming in our city is literally nestled next to the Astoria Hotel on East Hastings.
The SOLEfood farm is indeed below street level, and it’s quite the sight: dozens of raised garden beds stretch across the lot, many of them covered with PVC tubing and plastic sheets to keep in the heat. Business is year round and these days the city farmers are coaxing winter crops like collards, chard, kale, Chinese greens, spinach, radish and arugula into the chilly December air.
Farm Project Manager Seann Dory estimates the SOLEfood farmers have produced between 20,000 and 40,000 pounds of food this year. The best pickins go to city restaurants, inner city food organizations, and into the reusable shopping bags of customers at the Vancouver’s summer and winter farmers’ markets.
This is the second year the farm has been in operation. SOLEfood began in 2009 as a project of United We Can, and is now a registered enterprising non-profit organization. It employs six DTES residents during the summer, providing employement training and an opportunity to grow healthy and economical food for their own community.
The fact that all this veg is a result of a progressive and positive change in the DTES may be news to many SOLEfood customers. “We haven’t really advertised what we’re doing at the market that much, we like to lead with the food,” says Dory.
And the food is good. I’m a big fan of their sweet red peppers, grown without heated greenhouses, and making appearances at the market right up until mid-November. It’s amazing what a bit of ingenuity will yield. This year they experimented with vertical farming, growing strawberries out of tall plastic tubes filled with soil. “We got them in a bit late, next year it’ll be great,” says Dory.
The DTES team is looking to expand and Dory hopes SOLEfood will be hopping onto another piece of land in the new year.
“We’re at our limit now, and need more land,” he says. “If we expand we’ll do more varieties: root crops, melons, other greens and nightshades.”
You can meet Dory and all his cold-weather vegetables at the winter farmers’ market, held every Saturday in the Nat Bailey Stadium parking lot.
All images courtesy SOLEfood