The Urban Farming Forum will mark the official release of data from Vancouver’s urban farming census!
Census conducted by UBC Masters student Marc Schutzbank
Edible Vancouver: An Urban Farming Census
The Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Price Index is at the highest level ever recorded. Wheat crops have failed in Russia and in China due to severe heat and draught. International food access issues are stirring local public and private responses, one of which is urban farming. To ascertain the community impacts of urban farming, I propose the development of an urban farming census to measure the economic, social and environmental outcomes of urban farming.
Many cities and municipalities are developing local food strategies that include provisions for
local production and distribution of agricultural products. Entrepreneurs are developing businesses in the field of urban agriculture and thousands of gardens are being readied for next season. Yet, despite this interest and growth, there are no data available on specific yields, economic profit, social benefits or environmental impacts of urban farming in North America. I will address this lack of information by building a census of urban farms. Using Vancouver, BC as a test case, I will use the census to help elucidate both urban farming practices and their community impact. This tool will be exportable, to assist and encourage better accounting of urban farming in other communities. Measuring the impacts of sustainability initiatives like urban farming, can help decision makers target resources to the most effective programs. Results can drive future sustainability initiatives. I hypothesize that Vancouver’s urban farming promotes a wide range of community benefits; this census will evaluate my hypothesis.
Interest in local food continues to grow. Concerns of food safety and unease with international markets for agriculture are driving more customers to their local farmer’s markets and to their gardens. In 2008, Canadian farmers’ markets supported twenty-eight million shoppers, each spending thirty-two dollars per visit for a total economic impact between two and three billion dollars1. In the United States, there has been a 250% increase in the number of farmers markets over the past fifteen years2. Local food increasingly finds it way to the dinner table. Vancouver is no different.
Though many local farmers drive into the city from the surrounding areas, produce is readily
available from expanding urban farmers. Urban farmers, unlike community gardeners, farm to make a living. They raise produce, grow ornamentals, extract honey, raise chickens and collect eggs to sell in their community. In the metro-Vancouver region over 20 farms exist. Together, urban farmers have built an Urban Farmer’s Network to develop relationships, build community and understand the impacts of their work. In the meantime, the Vancouver Food Policy Council will present a comprehensive report on Vancouver’s Food Security, highlighting the importance of urban farmers: supporting self-sufficient communities educating urbanites about food production and providing a source of fresh produce.
Working with the Urban Farming Network, the City of Vancouver and the University of British Columbia, I will conduct an urban farming census, which will provide data on number of metrics: the amount of product grown and sold, jobs provided, volunteer hours logged, and change in soil productivity. These metrics, among others, will be collected through individual interviews and surveys that I will administer. In addition, I will be describing and modeling urban farm business operations. This will help give policy makers data to better develop legal frameworks for these programs and make best business practices available to current and future urban famers.