Vancouver’s Sole Foods: Bringing Back Dignity and Purpose to Emptiness
Last year, a large dreary parking lot in downtown Vancouver was transformed with rows of bright green vegetables under the shadow of B.C. Stadium, elevated light rail viaduct and condo towers. It didn’t take long for rich green leaves to unfurl and cover part of the asphalt carpet.
People would drive, stroll and bike by, curious at first and then later, it was just another large garden.
However at various local farmers’ markets about the city, we saw the non-profit organization Sole Foods, that coaxed these gardens, sell the fruits of their labour. They also supply some local restaurants.
Sole Foods provides employment and agricultural training to people with multiple barriers while also transforming vacant urban land into small farms. These community gardens are the brainchild of Michael Ableman and Seann Dory.
We cycled 6 kms. over to another Solefood farm location in downtown Vancouver Eastside on East lst St. and Clark St. Just above the garden were 2 different community art murals finished last year that celebrated gardening and wild salmon in the region.
Like the parking lot garden, these gardens were in a fenced area with a garden lot that was neatly tended with mini greenhouses, pillars for climbing raspberries, strawberries and blackberries and more luxuriant leafy vegetable rows. It is in a rougher area of town, with light industry across the street.
It is a heartening sight that although these gardens grow food, that if nurtured right, community gardens can teach, unite as well as beautify desolate areas right in the core of a city.
Transforming Toronto’s Transit Streetcar Barns and Yard: Gardens and Art
A few months ago, we cycled from our hotel to the Wychwood Artscape Barns in Toronto’s west end on Christie St. We wondered about it after I heard that this art and farmers’ market regularily bubbles with crowd activity every Saturday in the summer.
The Barns were formerly the Toronto Transit Commissions storage barns and shunting yard for the Toronto’s well-known streetcars. The main barn interior vaulted walls are line with wonderful vintage photos of transit riders, TTC employees and streetcar
scenes in the early 20th century. “That’s Spaghetti Yard”, remarked Jack, pointing to a photo of a chaotic tangle of streetcar tracks in the yard. Too bad that yard was torn out. Instead of the rail track squiggly mess, there were jammed racks of bikes while cyclists hung out with everyone else in the bright sunshine.
But let’s get back on track here: there were community gardens lining outside the barns –in some need of water soaking. Nearby vendors trotted out their vegetables, baked goods and crafts.
The success of retrofitting this heritage building site for regenerative activities of food gardens, small art enterprises, café, meeting space and farmers’ market, has now spawned some proposed Artscape sites elsewhere in Toronto.
Bringing Food, Order and Law in Calgary: Feeding the Police
I often bike homeward from work, by an urban scarecrow: it wears a two piece black suit along with a straw hat. A formality suited to the history of its still existent community garden –at Fort Calgary. Fort Calgary is now the heritage outpost site for the Northwest Mounted Police, now known as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The police had their own garden to feed themselves in the 1880’s with jump-start help of 2 local farmers. Later the garden had its own windmill with plans to install a water tank with pump. However that plan never launched. A second windmill was installed in 1910 by a farmer which has been preserved to now.
Unlike the mild, rainy weather of Vancouver, coaxing a large variety of edibles in windswept prairies, required ingenuity and patience. Growing season does not start in this part of Canada until June –the ground is too cold and threat of errant snowflurries were and continues to be real.
Somehow one scarcely believes that all the police officers were thrilled to muck about in the soil, instead of relaxing during off hours and maybe relying on the occasional Canadian Pacific railway shipment of food across the road or from local farmers.
Still, on the vast flat prairies, a viable garden of food and some brave flowers, is welcome relief for residents and travellers.
Chong, Jean. Community Gardens Near Cycling and Pedestrian Routes: Complementary Community Amenities. In Third Wave Cycling Blog. Sept. 25, 2011.