Urban Agriculture Catching On
By Danny Zanbilowicz
James McKerricher and his partner have transformed their corner lot in the City of Courtenay into a dense productive garden.
“This is my first time owning a home, just over a year,” he says. “Before I worked seasonally and travelled, lived in temporary places.”
The point is to feed themselves, perhaps provide income, and the fun of it. James says- “It’s all I think about, and want to do, in the greenhouse or in the rain.”
With a relatively small area, the task is to maximize the usefulness of space: “My girlfriend Caitlin O’Neill and I work on it together. We both live and work downtown. It has grown from a hobby to – “What can we do here?””
The garden contributed a large part of their food consumption during the summer. Stored and preserved garden produce will continue to feed them for months into the winter.
It is illegal, for now, for someone in the City of Courtenay to sell agricultural products from their home. But there is no problem giving things away, or bartering.
James says- “What can you grow in a small space to sell or trade, that people want, that makes sense for your lifestyle and is not just a job?”
The garden in the front yard attracts the attention of neighbours and people passing by who are interested in trades.
James says- “The most valuable commodity this year was tomato starters. We bought seeds, germinated them in the house and grew them under the lights. We had hundreds of tomato plants potted in gallon pots- strong healthy tomato starts which we traded for seafood, cider and so on.
James believes that urban agriculture actually has some advantages over traditional farms- “Some farmers make the mistake of taking on too much land. There is not enough time, energy, or resources to tend it properly. With a smaller garden you can dedicate enough energy, and there is lots of compost.
Also, a warmer urban micro-climate is conducive to growth- “There’s more heat- plants do better in the city. And there are wind barriers, like the tall fence.”
What was in the garden this summer?
“We planted carrots, pink jumbo heirloom squash, beets, pickled beans, dry beans, lots of garlic, tomatoes, peas, fennel, leaks, fresh herbs, cantaloupe, watermelon, eggplant, tomatillos. Also some kiwi, sour cherry, plum, fig, blackberry.”
Year-round, they will be growing radicchio, brussel sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, pac choi. There are two greenhouses on the property.
James acknowledges that “some things need to be discussed in urban agriculture, like water. We are in a place of privilege, with free water. If this caught on, we may need to address the issue.”
Meanwhile, he says, “We want to continue to grow the idea, intensify, and would love to see what could happen next. We want to work collectively to make this an asset for the community, including the possibility of selling to downtown businesses, direct from lawn to food.”
Check out the December issue of the Island WORD for more on urban agriculture.
More and more people living in cities are interested in growing their own fruits and vegetables, and even raising animals. The movement towards urban agriculture means lawns are being replaced by productive plots growing healthy foods.
The City of Victoria passed legislation which allows citizens to buy business licenses and sell their agricultural product. This is also becoming a way of life in Vancouver, where companies are popping up for transitioning urban lots to gardens. Campbell River has included provisions in
its OCP, and the Village of Cumberland has created new bylaws which allow .
Meanwhile, the City of Courtenay does not allow food to be grown on lots others than those which are explicitly identified for that purpose.
In order to explore the possibility of getting on the urban agricultural bandwagon, Lush Valley Food Action Society has announced that it has received funding from Healthy Communities
BC for a ”Plan H grant”.
A release from Lush says “The project will include a review of the City (of Courtenay)’s existing land use regulations, a lit review of Best Management Practices and case studies of other successful communities who have addressed this, public consultation in the form of surveys and
town hall meetings, Council consideration of land use amendments for adoption, and the creation of educational materials to publicize successful amendments to the land use regulations.”
Lush will partner with North Island College to create an online survey in January/February, to be followed by public meetings.
Lush Valley Executive Director Jessica Hawkins believes there are plenty of good reasons to encourage growth in urban agriculture- a response to global climate change, fears of food insecurity, health concerns like heart disease, stroke and diabetes, and the need to get healthy food to kids, as well as providing another source of income.
Watch for information on the survey, and public meetings next month and early in the new year.