Meet Peter Ladner: February 4th

As most of you know, I’ve been involved with the Royal City Farmers Market since 2009 and I’ve developed an interest in urban agriculture. We have two hens now producing all the eggs we need to feed our family of three, and after a totally engaging talk at the RCFM AGM from John Gibeau last week, I’m pretty convinced we need a home bee hive to start producing our own honey. I’ve started consuming some really great books to help me get the most out of my city lot here in New Westminster because while food feeds my belly, books feed my brain.

The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities, by Peter Ladner, a former Vancouver City Councillor, is a book on my to-read list. I’ve been told by a few friends that it is a great book, and I’m looking forward to getting into it.


From the publisher’s website:
Our reliance on industrial agriculture has resulted in a food supply riddled with hidden environmental, economic and health care costs and beset by rising food prices. With only a handful of corporations responsible for the lion’s share of the food on our supermarket shelves, we are incredibly vulnerable to supply chain disruption.

The Urban Food Revolution provides a recipe for community food security based on leading innovations across North America. The author draws on his political and business experience to show that we have all the necessary ingredients to ensure that local, fresh sustainable food is affordable and widely available. He describes how cities are bringing food production home by:

  • Growing community through neighbourhood gardening, cooking and composting programs
  • Rebuilding local food processing, storage and distribution systems
  • Investing in farmers markets and community supported agriculture
  • Reducing obesity through local fresh food initiatives in schools, colleges and universities.
  • Ending inner-city food deserts

Producing food locally makes people healthier, alleviates poverty, creates jobs, and makes cities safer and more beautiful.The Urban Food Revolution is an essential resource for anyone who has lost confidence in the global industrial food system and wants practical advice on how to join the local food revolution.

Sounds great, right? River Market is presenting Peter Ladner during the RCFM February winter market this coming Saturday. You can pick up a copy of his book and have it signed, and listen to Peter Ladner speak. The book signing is from 1-2pm and the talk starts at 3pm. Both take place inside Wild Rice. I know I’ll be timing my lunch break to take advantage of this opportunity!

Urban farming: seeding a movement

A view of Neal's urban garden. Photo: Neal Michael
A view of Neal's urban garden. Photo: Natalie Whiteway

“You look like you could use a beer man!”

Though I certainly appreciated the beer he promptly offered me, I was thoroughly enjoying myself, despite what it might have looked like. Kneeling on all fours in an overgrown planter in the parking lot of Burger Heaven, a small spade in hand tearing irregular sized chunks of weed infested sod out while a light rain fell, I was taking the first few steps to becoming part of the burgeoning urban gardening movement.

Since moving to the downtown area of New Westminster over three years ago, I had toyed with the idea of seed bombing one of the many derelict areas near the tracks or guerilla gardening in the unused parking lot across from our condo. The planter at Burger Heaven, however offered an ideal location given its proximity to our apartment and generous size. Motivated by an interest in urban farming projects in cities across North America and a promise to myself to be more action-oriented, I decided to indulge the itch to grow something and go for it. After a few e-mails to the owner of Burger Heaven and a couple of meetings, I began working on the garden.

A growing movement

Beets harvested from Neal's garden. Photo: Neal Michael.
Beets harvested from Neal's garden. Photo: Natalie Whiteway.

Urban gardening has been getting a lot of press these days, most notably for its role in helping cities improve their urban environment, while also providing fresh meat, fruits and vegetables to cash-strapped citizens trying to reduce their rapidly increasing food budget. With global energy demand rising, food costs around the world have also risen substantially making gardening an attractive and reasonably easy way to offset costs. Given that the average Vancouverite (and one can only assume resident of New West) requires approximately 7 hectares to feed him or herself, it would be next to impossible for an urban farmer to grow all the food he or she needs year around. However, what they do grow helps to lowers their household food budget, while also serving the city in a variety of ways.

An increase in green space provided by parks and urban gardens can help cool down a city by as much as 4° Celsius due to the cooling effect of water evaporating from plants. As well, food grown or raised locally cuts down on the emission of CO2 associated with the global food trade, as it doesn’t need to be shipped or flown in from another region. And though sometimes overlooked as an important factor, urban gardens improve the overall aesthetic of a community. With rich colours and textures, gardens bring to life what are sometimes lifeless urban areas that have been built with little regard to design or good architecture.

In the trench

Given that I knew very little about gardening, beyond some reading online and having attended a one-session balcony gardening course a few years back, the garden is doing surprisingly well. In terms of actual yield, I’ve got a bucket full of radishes, a few rows of lettuce that will be ready soon and some arugula that needs another week or so. The tomatoes, zucchini and beans need a whole lot more sun before they’ll start to really grow.

The benefits of the process have gone well beyond the actual yield. Many people, including the employees at Burger Heaven, notice that the garden has improved the look of the area and cut down on the amount of garbage. Interest from local residents has been great. Many people have stopped by to chat, to give a much-appreciated tip, or just to inquire as to what was going on. Its amazing to see just how many people are interested in gardening and have a real enthusiasm for it.

A call to spades

Though just a small project, the ability of a garden to build a greater sense of community is evident. As New West grows and increases in density, we will need to continue to improve our urban environment through small community driven initiatives and creative thinking. Blank walls, small patches of unused earth or a long abandoned rail line can be re-imagined as canvases, gardens or other projects that will improve the sustainability of the community. Who knows, if you look desperate enough while building your own garden you may just earn a few free beer out of it too. In the words of X-tina, “lets get dirty”.

Free film for New West Foodies Oct. 7

This is a guest post from Jessica Lai, the community food action developer in New Westminster. She is currently working on a feasibility study on starting a Harvest Box Program in New West where people can order a box of fresh produce that costs 2-3 times less than the retail price.

Joanne Ho from Nature Village Farms scoops up some blueberries for a customer at the Royal City Farmers Market. Photo: Briana Tomkinson
Joanne Ho from Nature Village Farms scoops up some blueberries for a customer at the Royal City Farmers Market. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

We are what we eat, and there are a lot us in New West that are really trying to have more say in what we put in our mouths.

On October 7th at 7pm, you can be part of that change where you can sit down, relax and watch a film on our current food industry. FRESH! is a film on the American food industry and how individual farmers, educators, urban agriculturists and also business people are doing to change their food system into a more sustainable, self-reliant system. Although it is an American film, the fundamental issues are still local in our community. There are many lessons that we can learn from the examples set in the film.

This free film screening event is co-hosted by the New Westminster Community Food Action Committee. Not only is it a mouthful to say, the committee is also a diverse group of people who are really trying to help our community become more self sufficient in our food system. Committee members include community developers, advocates, educators, environmentalists, health professionals, community service agency representatives and concerned citizens who are all interested in food security issues.

Food security is a buzzword right now in the media, governments and also academia, however, many community members are still confused about what it means. Simply put, food security is when all people have access to nutritious, healthy food that is culturally acceptable at all times. Another way to think about it is that no one goes to bed hungry. It is important, though, that the food we consume is both nutritious and local.

It is easier to understand the benefits of healthy and local food. Better food choices prevent many diseases while helping people feel satisfied and full (no more sugar crashes). Buying local food means that we are supporting our local farmers, and also our local economy. Local food also means that your peaches did not travel from California, but Summerland: less pollution in our air, and also the farmers don’t need to pick the peaches until ripe! Locally produced food is easier to monitor to ensure the farm is farming according to appropriate health regulations. Can you really say that you know what kind of herbicides and pesticides farmers use in the States and in China?

The New West Food Action Committee has hired me as a food action developer, and what we’re trying to do here is to spread the word and hopefully develop programs where all citizens can have access to healthy, local and fresh food. My position as the New West food action developer is relatively new (started in June) but it has been a wonderful experience. My degree in Geography and Sustainable Community development was mostly books, theories, and papers, but working here in New West with the Hospitality Project and NW Food Action Committee has given me the chance to translate these theories into real projects.

I am always looking for seasonal recipes and creative ways to cook, so if you’re reading this now and you’re dying to share a few seasonal recipes with me, come by the film event and we can talk then!

Event info:

  • Film: Fresh!
  • Date: October 7th, 7pm-9pm
  • Venue: Shiloh-Sixth United Church’s GYM, 1111 6th Avenue, New West (6th Ave @ 12th Street)
  • Venue is wheelchair accessible!