Seeds in the City: Urban Orchards Sprout Up in Canada
Canada’s Greenest City has gone fruity – creating the country’s first urban orchard and one that is being touted as the largest of its kind on the continent.
Growing fruit in city spaces, while innovative to frosty Canada, is not a new concept in North America nor the rest of the world. Likeminded grower organizations exist in places including Philly, Albuquerque, Seattle, and London, as well as this noteworthy Guerilla Grafters group from San Francisco who covertly splice city trees to bear fruit.
Coming to life in a vacant lot bordering Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, close to 500 trees stand ready to produce fruit including Meyer lemons, Santa Rosa plums, French butter pears, persimmons, figs, and quince, as well as 50 to 60 types of culinary herbs that will be ready for harvest this fall. Fully grown, some of the fruit trees will reach 25 feet tall.
Vancouver’s SOLEfood Street Farms operation had a photo op set up for media with city mayor and resident health nut Gregor Robertson at the 5-acre site, which until recently had sat unused for the better part of a decade.
The City of Vancouver leased the land on Main St. to SOLEfood for $1 a year; the urban gardening company has other inner city operations offering work opportunities for impoverished DTES residents, largely plagued by poverty and/or addiction.
The garden, while on prime real estate for gentrified condos, also rests on contaminated land that once held a gas station – and use restrictions for sites with such tainted soil has delayed development here from proceeding.
“The land might be valuable but decontamination has a cost associated with it,” city councillor Andrea Reimer told HuffPost B.C. “The options were gas station or orchard, and orchard made a lot of sense.”
Produce grown at the orchard will be sold to restaurants and other businesses in the Greater Vancouver Region, effectively fulfilling SOLEfood’s two main goals, as co-founder Michael Ableman told the CBC, of generating food and jobs.
SOLEfood expects the majority of the fruits to be ready for production in three to five years.
SOLEfood Street Farms currently operates four sites in Vancouver and employs 25 people from the area, many of whom struggle with mental illness, addiction and poverty. Last year, the organization produced over 30 tons of food for local farmers markets, restaurants and stores, and expects to double that number this year. Visit SOLEfood Street Farms for more information.