Posts Tagged ‘Vancouver’

Evaluating Farming Income Sources

As I’m nearing the end of my practicum program, and creating my own farm plan, I have been evaluating the different direct marketing streams that are the main sales points for small scale organic growers. I go through them here to compare and contrast the benefits and challenges.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

In a CSA model, customers typically pay at the beginning of the season for a share of the produce. Generally, they expect a certain number of weeks of produce, and the idea is that they share in the ups and downs of farming. This provides farmers with cash flow at the beginning of the season, when it is greatly needed, and an assured market. Since the customers don’t typically choose what is in their box, they are exposed to a variety of fruits and vegetables that they may or may not be familiar with. CSAs often result in longer term, established relationships between customers and farmers, and often include some aspects of engagement, like on-farm pick-ups or other activities to connect the customer with the farm.

Some of the challenges associated with CSAs can be the administration and logistics – preparing the boxes for pick up/delivery each week, arranging with customers who are not able to pick up at the allotted time, and collecting the bins back from customers each week. There is also some stress associated with having to meet the CSA requirement each week, no matter what’s going on at the farm. Generally, though, CSA is a good option for new farmers, because customers can be recruited from friends and family, and are often made up of supportive people who will cut you a bit of slack during your first couple of years. Longer term, though, it may not supply enough income to be worthwhile.

Farmers Markets

UBC Farm Market

UBC Farm Market

When people think local and organic food, they often think of farmers markets. The markets offer a great opportunity to interact with customers, and allow a farmer to sell whatever they have without having to meet specific quotas. They also allow farmers to charge top dollar for their produce, and can be quite lucrative. Plus, they’re fun!

The downside of markets is that they can take up a lot of time and travel. If the market isn’t right on your doorstep, then fuel costs have to be taken into account, and the time that the farmer spends at the market instead of at the farm is valuable. And if the farmer isn’t a people-person, it would not be as fun, and dealing with the same question 100 times an hour can get frustrating (See what questions not to ask!). And poor weather or a holiday weekend can seriously cut down your profit, making it less worthwhile to have driven all the way out there and spent the day at the market. There is also a lot more competition, and for a new farmer, it can be difficult to become established and well-known, as customers often have their loyalty to a specific farmer (which is why it can also be great once you have it!).

Restaurants

Restaurants can be an excellent source of income for local farmers, especially those restaurants that are focused on local, sustainable food. They often take produce that would be considered specialty items, will pay a good price for them, will buy produce that may have cosmetic deficiencies, and will order in large quantities, which reduces the labour involved in bunching or bagging small amounts. Chefs understand the value of high quality produce, and know what to do to make it taste great. Also, once a relationship is established, it can be a regular, weekly, assured sale.

A challenge associated with selling to restaurants is that there is high turnover among head chefs, and if a chef leaves, your relationship with that restaurant may disappear suddenly. Restaurants also expect that you will have somewhat more regular, predictable amounts and quality, which can be challenging in the first couple of years of farming. Also, it can take a lot of upfront work to establish relationships with restaurants.

Farm Stands

Three Sisters Farm Stand

Three Sisters Farm Stand

In many rural areas, especially along major roads, you often see farm stands at the driveways of small farms. These stands are stocked with what’s available from the farm (eggs, produce, flowers), and often use an honour system of payment, with a locked pay-box and a list of prices.

This kind of farm stand is great for saving labour, because no one needs to be standing there (although you should be close-by), and customers who know it is there can come when it suits them, instead of waiting for a designated time. It often capitalizes most on a local, committed customer base, who know that you are there and will come to you for their shopping.

The challenges are obvious, though. Theft and dishonest payment, not being able to keep produce looking its best, potentially losing sales if you are not there to restock when something runs out. It also doesn’t work if you are not easily accessible by road, or are too far away from town centres.

Wholesale

Selling wholesale to grocery stores, chains or distributors is one way for a farmer to sell a large amount of product, all at once. It also means that the produce is going to the place where the majority of people still buy their produce, which is the supermarkets and grocery stores.

By selling wholesale, farmers sell more product, but receive a lower price per item. There are also a lot of costs (and waste) associated with packaging and shipping, with standardized expectations for each product that must be taken into account. Distributors and wholesale buyers also want to have a regular and predictable supply, and be able to buy large volumes from one source, instead of many shipments from smaller sources.

In reality, most small-scale farmers don’t sell wholesale, because of the difficulty in administration, not enough production, and the lower prices. But there are certainly larger scale farms that make this a successful marketing avenue.

Other Avenues

Other farms are successful at using variations of these marketing avenues, such as co-ops, group buying clubs, made-to-order CSA shares, full-diet CSAs, online buying, and many other ways to sell directly to the customer. Marketing is only limited by imagination!

Conclusions

For me, and the farm I envision, I imagine that my marketing will be a combination of CSA, farmers markets, and restaurant sales. If my farm ends up in a location that is favourable, I would love to have a farm stand one day. What’s important to me is that I am able to make my farm financially sustainable and successful, that I can connect directly with my customers (and they with me and my farm), and that in the end, my farm produce goes to feed people in a healthy, environmentally friendly way.

Urban Farm Tours

I’ve had many opportunities recently to visit some of the awesome urban farms in Vancouver lately. Many of these tours have been organized as part of a tour/potluck series by Young Agrarians, and have been great chances to not only see cool farms, but meet some of the amazing people that are part of the food revolution happening here and everywhere. Definitely check them out!

City Beet Farm

City Beet Farm is a funky farm set up, run by two young women in their first year of independent farming. They cultivate 8 front yard spaces in the Mount Pleasant area of Vancouver, and move around mainly by bicycle. Working mainly in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model, they seem to be doing pretty well in their first year. Great example of how food can be grown on land in the city, look amazing, and feed people!

Getting a lot of good info from Tessa at Farmers on 57th

Getting a lot of good info from Tess at Farmers on 57th

Farmers on 57th

The half acre cultivated by Farmers on 57th is a hotbed of productivity. Although there have been more in the past, one farmer, Tess, is running the farm this year. They sell through a 40 member CSA, and at markets through the City Farms Co-op. Our group was particularly impressed by the large tomatoes being grown, outside of a hoophouse, which we haven’t really seen being done on a farming scale in Vancouver. They work with minimal machinery, and really work to include community as part of their work, encouraging CSA members to come and hang out on pick up days, and working with the Coastal Health facility on whose property they farm.

Southlands Farm

Me trying to milk a goat

Me trying to milk a goat

This was another Young Agrarians potluck, and so much fun to visit.

Southlands Farm is a magical place where chickens and sheep wander around, and also includes horses, ducks, goats, and a pig. The main income from this farm is the educational programs, which connect kids with farming in an urban area. The highlight for me was trying to milk one of the goats (pretty unsuccessfully). While not following the more traditional farming structure, Southlands shows how a working farm can be integrated in a residential neighbourhood, and engage families in growing food, caring for animals, and generally stewarding the land.

Fresh Roots Urban Farm Society

Fresh Roots has a pretty unique system. They farm in schoolyards, with 2 main half acre plots on 2 different school grounds. Along with being a working market garden, selling the produce to the school cafeterias as well as farmgate sales, they have a strong focus on education and community building. They use their highly visible position at the school to engage people in conversations about local, organic food, about different food traditions, and about how the farm can be a part of the community.

Yummy Yards

Who wouldn't want a cute guy like this guarding the chickens?

Who wouldn’t want a cute guy like this guarding the chickens?

Yummy Yards is an urban farm with a variety of locations in Vancouver and Richmond, and I had a chance to visit the home base in Richmond as well as 3 of their urban lots. At home base, I got to meet the chickens and Reverend, the llama, who has now completely convinced me that a llama is a great addition to my farm plan! Farming in front yards has some pretty interesting implications, not least among which you need to keep your garden beds very weed-free, since you’re usually on someone’s front yard, and there are often challenges around neighbours, different expectation, watering, and the logistics of just moving from one place to the next. But Yummy Yards makes it work well, and it’s a pretty interesting operation.

Conclusions

Urban farming is a pretty awesome thing that continues to grow in Vancouver. It is a great way to combine food production with education, and increases the connection of urban dwellers to where their food comes from. It might not be able to produce on a huge scale, but small areas can be highly productive, and I think the fringe benefits to society are much greater in terms of visibility, awareness, and overall well-being of people living nearer to thriving food gardens. While I don’t think urban farming is for me, I have a great admiration for those who do it, and think they deserve a lot of recognition from us urban dwellers.

Words of wisdom to ponder from the toilet at Southlands

Words of wisdom to ponder from the toilet at Southlands

Location, Location, Location

The hinge in the wedding planning was where it was going to happen. Two main considerations for choosing our venue: environmental considerations, and simplicity. Luckily, the two go hand in hand. We also worked with a tight timeline, about 5 months in the planning process.

Eco-Friendly Considerations

We wanted to pick a local business, with a preference for a local brewery, since beer is going to be a main staple of our reception. We also wanted somewhere central, and close to a place we could host an outdoor ceremony, to reduce the driving that people will do to get there. Somewhere that will take care of all aspects – food, drinks, decoration, AV, etc – reduces the transportation costs of bringing those things in. And a place that looks nice in itself won’t require decorations and flowers, things that are produced just for one day, and then discarded. Also, somewhere with good vegetarian food options was key.

Simplicity

Neither my partner nor I are the type to go crazy for the trappings of weddings. Decorations? Nope. Seating chart? No thanks. Flowers? What for? All of those details just make planning the event work, instead of fun. So it was important to us to find somewhere that would take care of as much of the details as possible, without that becoming crazy expensive. Finding a place that just looks nice all on it’s own is key, and that provides as many of the details as possible, just reduces our stress about things we don’t care about. Although I may have loved having an outdoor wedding at a farm, in the end, having to deal with things like catering, chair/tent rentals, liquor licenses, transportation, and everything else just wouldn’t make it worth it.

Ceremony Reception Combo

Ceremony location

Ceremony location

We were keen to have our ceremony outdoors. Both M and I are outdoorsy types, and, at least to me, it just seems right to say our vows outside, in a park. But we didn’t want to have to deal with people driving to one location, then driving to another (bad carbon footprint!), or renting some kind of bus to move everyone along. The ideal was somewhere that had both a reception location and ceremony venue within walking distance. We also want to keep the ceremony short and simple, with guests standing and no walking-down-the-aisle.

Where We Landed

After some wandering, exploring, and a pub crawl in Gastown (I know, the hardships), we narrowed it down to two locations. Granville Island Brewery was a fantastic option, which would have been funky and allowed us to get all sustainable, veggie catering from Savoury City, but unfortunately, their liquor license currently restricts them to 6 such events per year. So we’ve ended up at Steamworks Brewery, on the edge of Gastown.

Keeping the Eco-Theme

Steamworks Harbour View Room

Steamworks Harbour View Room

Although Steamworks’ veggie menu was limited, the event manager worked with us to provide an all vegetarian menu, with a few vegan options, and is a local brewery. A 5 minute walk (through Waterfront station) will connect us to Crab Park at Portside, an oceanside park in the city with great views of the mountains and city, where we will have our ceremony.

In our invitation and follow up directions, we have encouraged our guests to take transit where possible. Although I have no idea how many of them will take me up on it (I take buses to other people’s weddings, but I may be in a minority), we made the venue accessible by being very central. Also, parking is expensive downtown Vancouver, so hopefully that discourages people! Most of our out of town guests are staying at a hotel across the street.

Although I do think that we could have found somewhere that fit our bill a little better, I think we’ve done a pretty good job in keeping with what is important to us. I will work on keeping waste low by hopefully limiting straw use!

Sustainability for the Holidays

Whew. It’s been a long time since I’ve got myself together to write a blog post. Let me get back to it!

If you’re anything like me, the holiday season can be a little bit of a nightmare. I love being able to spend time with my family – in fact, if that’s all Christmas was about, I would be thrilled! Food and family, that’s what I want!

But that’s not really the way it works. I come from a long tradition of Christmas like it is on TV – lots of gifts, food, and general holiday excess. And it can honestly be more stressful for me to receive gifts than it is to give it, as I dread being left with a pile of unsustainably made, highly packaged items that I don’t need, no matter the good intentions that went into them.

I’ve had to introduce things slowly into my family, and some changes have stuck, while others are still a battle. But I do have ways that you can make changes for things that are within your control.

Gift giving

There are a lot of great eco-blogs and suggestions about how to be more eco-friendly in your gift giving. Here are a few suggestions:newspaper-wrapping1

  • Reduce and reuse wrapping. Try newspaper or home-decorated recycled paper.
  • Give homemade gifts. If you think about it far enough in advance, homemade items like candles are pretty easy and fun, or edibles like granola, party mix, or baking. For the planners and homesteaders, I love to give home canning or preserves.
  • Like they say at Metro Vancouver, give memories, not garbage. Tickets to plays, concerts, comedy shows, or plans for experiences like taking someone out to dinner and a movie, some kind of lesson, bowling, or Science World.
  • Give the gift of time. For the new mom, 10 hours of babysitting, and for a friend or colleague, offer to teach them something you know (i.e. Candlemaking, home canning). If you have any special skills like plumbing or carpentry, the gift practically makes itself!

Travel Footprint

Many people travel long distances for the holidays to see friends and family, and though I usually recommend the staycation and avoiding flights where possible, family is key and if yours is far away, going home can be the most important part of your year. Invest in quality carbon offsets for your trip. Although there is much debate about the value of carbon offsetting, when flights are non-negotiable, they can be one small way to give back.

Avoid Excessive Consumerism

Boxing Day, like Black Friday, is a nightmare for the environmentalist – so many people, buying so much crap that they don’t need and didn’t know they wanted before it was on sale, or getting a newer version of the same gadget they already have. I actually heard a tech expert on the radio stating, as though it was an obvious fact, that everyone gets a new TV every 3 or 4 years. Seriously? Not necessary. Skip the malls, and stay home with a movie and hot chocolate, or plan a games day with

The summer's preparation for Christmas giving

The summer’s preparation for Christmas giving

friends and family to eat all the leftovers.

Eco-Edibles

Food is a major part of the holidays, so it’s an important piece to consider when thinking about the environmental impact.

  • Where does your turkey come from, and what kind of life did it have? A lot can be said about the horrific conditions of factory farms. If you’re eating meat for the holidays, support local farmers, and invest in a free-range, organic turkey.
  • Buy local – visit the Winter Farmer’s market for your dinner ingredients if you can, buy local organic wines and microbrew beers, and take advantage of seasonal goods for things like pumpkin or apple pie.
  • Don’t make too much. Leftovers are great, but will it all be eaten? So much food goes to waste, and food should not be going to our landfills, taking up shrinking space and releasing greenhouse gases as they decompose inorganically. Dump whatever leftovers you can into a big pot of soup, and compost what’s left.

Save Energy

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - Too many lights?

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – Too many lights?

The holidays are a time when a lot more energy gets used. Reduce your impact on the electrical grid.

  • Consider whether you really need holiday lights, and how many. Use less energy intensive lights, and when they’re broken and burnt out, dispose of them properly.
  • Turn down the heat. Ever been to a holiday party where you could walk around in a tank top and shorts? With more people in the room, not to mention heat produced by cooking and baking, there is no need to crank the heat. Turn it down well before people come over, and encourage visitors to be comfortable in pants and sweaters, rather than dresses meant for summer weather.
  • Use kitchen energy efficiently. Try to do as much baking in a row as possible, to reduce the amount of times you need to heat up the oven. Think ahead to plan for thawing items, to avoid use of the microwave. Keep drinks outdoors, and eliminate the need for the beer fridge.

Give Back

It’s an often mentioned theme, but giving back to your community is a great way to celebrate a time of year meant for love

Give a gift that gives in more than one way

Give a gift that gives in more than one way

and family. Many charities count on donations received during the holidays for their yearly budget, so open your chequebook and be generous. Find out the favourite charity of a family member or friend, and make a donation in their name. If money is a problem, take some time to volunteer at a busy shelter or food bank, if they need it, or commit to volunteering in the New Year.

Enjoy

I have found that by making as many small and large changes as possible, I can reduce my own holiday stress, as fewer things I encounter directly oppose my own values. Every year, I make more changes, and encourage my family to do the same, and small changes don’t detract from the overall holiday traditions. Less stress means a merrier Christmas!

Community Connections

Recently, I attended the Metro Vancouver Sustainability Dialogues, with the discussion centering around the fact that even though we are living in closer and closer proximity to each other in cities, people are less likely to know their neighbours and feel connected to their communities. One of the interesting discussion points was whether social media contributes to this problem, by encouraging people to stay home on the computer instead of going out and interacting with people.

Growing up in the suburbs of Vancouver, I knew all my neighbours. I babysat for them, took care of their pets, and borrowed the proverbial cup of sugar. Since I’ve left home, I’ve lived in a variety of apartments, and I’ve rarely known my neighbours more than to say hi.

I miss those connections. For a variety of reasons, I have no interest in moving to the suburbs (though rural life has great appeal). So, in this denser urban environment, how do we connect?

It does seem to me that social media can contribute to this separation. I am a confessed introvert. Put me in a room with a bunch of strangers, and I will stand in a corner and try not to look awkward. Social media suits me this way – I can converse with people who are also interested in the same topics I am, without the stress of trying to make small talk. It’s difficult for me to move offline and connect with these community members. And how many others, like me, would prefer to sit at home on their computers in their pajamas, rather than go out there and make new friends? Or, more accurately, would love to make new friends, it just seems to hard.

Even as an introvert, I crave those connections. It’s just much harder to make them. My mother’s best friend was 3 doors down from us – I can’t help but feel that the loss of community that we experience in urbanization is a major problem. Security, environmental health, and happiness are all affected by the lack of community, when neighbours don’t know, don’t care, or abdicate responsibility for what goes on in their neighbourhoods.

How do we connect, in an increasingly urbanized world? When density is what is needed in order to prevent more urban sprawl and land destruction, how to we create the kind of urban environments that encourage neighbours to care about each other?

So Disappointed by my Government; So Inspired by my Community

Sometimes, when I listen to the news, see the mass consumption marketing, I feel like I’m standing alone on a little island, that I just don’t connect with how my world is portrayed. But today, I joined hundreds of other Vancouverites on Kits beach, to stand together against the pipelines and tankers of Enbridge and Kinder-Morgan. I felt like I was part of something big, that there are a lot of people who care. And I felt hope at that.

As an environmentalist these days, it certainly feels like my government doesn’t care the slightest bit about me or others who care about something bigger than profit and money. The planet and those who want to protect it are becoming targets for the big guys to take shots at, and I see this reflected by a government pushing through laws and regulations that make it easier for industry to develop the tarsands, and remove protection for water and fish – unless, of course, those fish have some kind of economic value. We hear the government ministers calling us “radicals” and positioning us as the enemy of Canadians.

Tomorrow, organizations and individuals across Canada will be blacking out their websites as part of the BlackOutSpeakOut campaign to “speak out against changes introduced in the federal government’s budget act (C-38).” 

Alone, I feel powerless. But when I see that I’m not alone, I have hope. We may all come at these things with different backgrounds, interests and ideas, but as long as we stand together, there’s a chance we can all make it.

Image

From 24 HOURS article, photo by CARMINE MARINELLI

Earth Day Green City Race

This past Saturday, I participated in the Evergreen Foundation‘s Green City Race. Along the lines of the Amazing Race and City Chase type of activities, we had a bunch of clues that we needed to follow to find different community landmarks, ranging from East Van to Cambie and False Creek to Gastown. It was a really cool opportunity to run around town and visit some pretty cool “green” places in the city.

Some Vancouver Green City highlights:

The Neighbourhood Energy Utility

This utility in False Creek uses “waste heat recovery from untreated urban waste water.” I had no idea this was nestled under the Cambie Street bridge, providing renewable energy for the area.

At the Vancouver Convention Centre, a LEED certified building

Bandidas Taqueria

I love Bandidas. Not only do they serve awesome vegetarian food, but they have a sustainability credo that I love – they bike their produce around, and use sustainably sourced ingredients.

My Own Back Yard Community Garden

Cool little community garden just off Commercial Drive, with a shed made out of cob.

Other highlights:

Random strangers cheering us on.
Friendly people submitting to our requests for photographs of their reusable mugs and shopping bags.

Thanks for biking!

Planting an apple tree in Evergreen’s Urban Orchard.
Leaving a thank you note for a cyclist on their bike.
Proving to myself that I have a pretty good knowledge of the Vancouver transit system.
Running around in the beautiful sunshine.
Winning second place!

Even without a smart phone (thanks to some helpers at home on computers), we were able to navigate the clues around the city.

If you’re interested in green places in the city, having fun, and getting a little competitive, try this race out next year.We’re aiming for first next time!