Urban farmers

Aucklander Ben Mayson is turning lawns and garden beds into ‘micro-farms’ – in return for giving him access to crop parts of their yard, Ben gives the land owners discounted  produce, from their patch or elsewhere.

Ben, his wife and three children returned home from overseas last year and in January he launched Farmster which has about 500 square metres of urban land to be cropped and with the first deliveries due on April 25.

Plots, with a minimum size of 12 square metres, need to have good soil and plenty of sun. Ben will do the preparation, planting and harvesting with the land owner in charge of watering. In return, the land owner receives a weekly box of veges, delivered, for $15, a $10 discount on the normal price.

Ben’s already planning on taking the concept nationwide. Read a recent article about Farmster.

Canada is full of such ideas, including the well-established organic Green City Acres in Kelowna, British Columbia which in 2012 grew more than 22.7 tonnes of food on less than 0.4 ha (1 acre) on multiple sites and used only 80 litres of petrol. Founder Curtis Stone says he earns $C75,000 a year from his produce – and all without owning any land.

IMG_7495 - Copy

Part of Sole Food Street Farms in Vancouver, pictured in 2016. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Another well-established urban farming project in Vancouver began in an area almost entirely inhabited by those dealing with long-term addiction, mental illness and poverty – and the soil’s not great. Read more about Michael Ableman and his organic Sole Food Street Farms.

IMG_7491 - Copy

Another view of the Sole Food Street Farms, now moved. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Now, the organisation – North America’s largest urban farm project – has lots all over Vancouver. The one I saw in 2016 was the original site, beside the city’s BC Place sports stadium. The area has been opened up to the public with cycle paths and walkways – and developers moved in last year so the farm had to move.

Fortunately, Sole Food was already using stackable plastic boxes to grow in and these can be easily moved using a forklift. Visit the Sole Food Street Farms website.

The city of Toronto is providing a global model for urban farming and last year inaugurated the first  official Urban Agriculture Day on September 15. The urban farming community there includes traditional backyard gardens, community gardens, school gardens, rooftop farms and backyard chickens, as well as the Ripple aquaculture pilot project. Read more about Ripple, along with some of the challenges facing urban farming in Canada’s largest city.