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Building community through farming

The SOLEfood urban farm in Vancouver's Downtown East Side
The SOLEfood urban farm in Vancouver's Downtown East Side

Alexandra Pope, staff writer

July 27, 2011 — Good things are growing in Vancouver's Downtown East Side.

Cool weather has slowed the growth of tomatoes this year
Cool weather has slowed the growth of tomatoes this year

It's sometimes referred to as “Canada's poorest postal code,” but the directors and employees of SOLEfood are doing their part to improve Vancouver's Downtown East Side by building healthy relationships around healthy food.

Located in the parking lot of the Astoria Hotel at the corner of East Hastings Street and Hawk Avenue, SOLEfood is a half-acre “urban farm” consisting of hundreds of planters.

Seann Dory, a co-director of SOLEfood, said the farm employs local residents, giving them an opportunity to build their skills and earn some income.

“They work here and we sell the produce at the farmers markets and restaurants,” Dory explained. “Some of the food ends up in the neighbourhood. I think the community has really embraced the project.”

SOLEfood currently employs six people. Together they grow tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, spinach, radish, eggplant, strawberries, and cucumbers, as well as cut flowers, arugula and basil.

SOLEfood's vertical strawberries
SOLEfood's vertical strawberries

As an urban farm, SOLEfood faces unique challenges, like limited space.

The employees have found ways around the problem. For example, by growing strawberries vertically in PVC tubes, the farm has been able to double its strawberry crop.

Like any farm operation, SOLEfood's output is highly dependent on the weather.

“This year's been awful,” Dory said. “(With) the cool spring ... and the late summer, we still don't have our tomatoes ready.”

However, SOLEfood's urban context also gives it an advantage: heat.

“We get a lot of extra heat from the pavement and from the buildings around it ... which helps out a lot,” Dory said.

For more information about SOLEfood, visit their blog.

With files from Caaleb Trott in Vancouver

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