A recent opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun chose to use the Edible Garden Project’s Loutet Farm as an example of “unsustainable” urban farming. We’d like to take a moment to share our thoughts in response to this article.
Urban agriculture isn’t ever going to feed everyone in the city, and nor is that its intent. Urban farms will never replace our rural agricultural lands – the lands that are vitally important to feeding us now and in the future. However, we believe that urban agriculture can support the health and stewardship of these vital rural agricultural lands. Most Canadians live in cities, and urban agriculture provides city dwellers with an opportunity to connect to where their food comes from, and learn how they can support their local rural farmers. Our work at Loutet Farm and the Edible Garden Project does this by providing an accessible space where citizens can learn about the importance of local food, participate in annual trips to Fraser Valley farms, and provide opportunities to ask questions and learn about farming and food.
Sustainability is commonly defined by a three pillar approach – economic, social, and environmental. Most people can see the environmental and social benefits of Loutet Farm, but as a social enterprise we also have a clear goal to be financially self-sufficient by the end of 2015. Loutet Farm is a five year pilot project partnership with the City of North Vancouver, University of British Colombia’s Greenskins Lab, and the North Shore Neighbourhood House’s Edible Garden Project. We’re setting out to determine if our model of small scale organic urban agriculture is viable – including financially. If it is, we can share our model with organizations, farmers, or municipalities across the country; we’ve been given an unique opportunity to experiment and develop a ‘sustainable’, scalable, and replicable model.
We have set financial targets for each year of our operations to get us to “break even”($52,000 includes direct and indirect costs for the Loutet Farm project) by the end of 2015. We set the target of breaking even for our fifth year because it would be un-realistic to expect high revenue in the farm business’ first year of operations – we needed to develop and hone our systems, develop healthy nutrient rich soil, nurture a strong customer base, and strong partnerships. That all takes time, but we are happy to report that it is paying off!
- In 2011 we broke ground and generated $2000 of revenue, and by the 2013 season we generated $32,000. We are on target to generate $42,000 this year.
- We have relied on generous contributions from foundations and corporations to both establish Loutet Farm, and cover the operating costs as we build up our farm revenue (meet them here).
We are grateful for our partnership with the City of North Vancouver (CNV), which provides free use of the Loutet Farm park space. Although situated on Park Land, Loutet Farm has transformed an un-used weedy gravel area into a thriving community hub. The walking path has been maintained in the Loutet Farm design, and the neighbours and park users see the Farm as an asset to their park and neighbourhood.
With the decision to establish Loutet Farm as a pilot project, the CNV Mayor and Council made it clear that the operation would need to prove its sustainability – environmentally, socially, and financially. There was a fear (and a risk) that Loutet Farm could be poorly managed, and would become a burden for the CNV to maintain or demolish. As a result the CNV has not provided any financial contributions directly to the Loutet Farm project, nor will they have to if we continue to successfully manage this social enterprise and its growth.*
Loutet Farm is only a half-acre site, so we are proud to be managing an operation that can employ our Farmer year round and strive to pay a living wage. Along with one full-time farmer, Loutet Farm is supported by a small portion of time from the rest of the Edible Garden Project’s staff team (Manger, Community Coordinator, Education Coordinator, and Communications Coordinator).
We are also incredibly proud of the volunteer community that we have cultivated at Loutet Farm. The community members that choose to spend hours at Loutet Farm each week learning about organic farming, helping us maintain and harvest, teaching children visiting the Farm, and building relationships with each other are the heart of our work. Loutet Farm wouldn’t be the community hub it is today without their dedication and support.
Loutet Farm is a social enterprise and we are successfully developing and proving a small scale urban farm model that is financially, environmentally, and socially responsible. Loutet Farm is a thriving community hub and ground for experimentation and development of local food production models.
*Note: The CNV does provide core funding to the Edible Garden Project through its funding of the North Shore Neighbourhood House. However, none of these funds are allocated for or used to support the Loutet Farm project.