Well, it’s official. Earlier this month, Loutet Farm received a unanimous vote of support from the City of North Vancouver Mayor and Council, renewing our Land Use Agreement for another five years. With five farm seasons under our belt, this really means the farm is no longer a pilot project. We’re a social enterprise which has proven its ability to grow and meet financial targets – all the while creating a viable community space and a new landmark on the North Shore.
After our delegation to council, many of the Edible Garden Project staff and supporters gathered around a table to celebrate and pondered “Why does Loutet Farm work? What is the secret ingredient that makes the space function? What kind of magic is at work in that half acre of former rocky scrub land?”
I do know what drew me to the farm, so perhaps by sharing my experience, I can capture what I have discovered about the beauty of growing and sharing food and learning together.
As a young kid, I had an interest in “global issues”. I dreamt of becoming a journalist, so that I might travel the world and generate awareness and change through writing and photography. What I ended up doing instead was enrolling in the University of British Columbia’s International Relations program.
During my studies at UBC, we tackled huge issues like poverty, arms races and disarmament, religious conflicts, challenges to global development, conflict and cooperation, non-governmental organizations, refugee issues, nationalism and the significance of borders, environmental degradation, global warming, education, gender inequality, food security… and the list goes on.
I emerged from my undergraduate studies reeling. I remember feeling overwhelmed and powerless under the weight of the global issues I had so longed to address.
Then I applied to become an environmental education intern through a program backed by the Canadian International Development Agency. I liked the idea of tying some global issues together – the environment, education, sustainable development and food security, to name a few.
My internship plopped me down on the North Coast of Honduras in a village called Cuyamel. Along with another Canadian intern, Radek, and his partner Becky, I was tasked with growing a school and family gardens program. During the six months I spent in Cuyamel, I witnessed magic happen. It was my real “Aha!” moment with those global issues.
We built a demonstration garden and compost pile with one of the local women outside her home. After that, new gardens popped up everywhere. Over here, someone would build a trellis out of driftwood. Over there, someone filled an old canoe with soil and was growing greens in raised bed. As “coordinators”, we could barely keep up with the requests for seeds, building materials and soil. We made fast friends with the people in the community and developed strong connections, despite our frequent language barriers.
Through this experience, I began to understand how fundamental food is. If you’re hungry, it is all you can think about. Once you are fed, you can begin to tackle something else. Having control over your own food supply by growing it yourself, even if only a couple radishes or some crooked carrots, is incredibly empowering. Having the opportunity to help others grow their food or to grow food as a community? Well, now you’ve uncovered something really special – and vegetables grow fast!
A garden changes visibly week over week and an entire farm season happens over a matter of months. With a crop like radishes, you can go from seed to feed in under a month! These rewards are huge incentives for children and adults alike. It is all about measurable progress that is simple and easy to understand and observe.
A working farm like Loutet has something to offer everyone of any age, size and background. You can flex your muscles shovelling, you can stay upright seeding into trays, you can get down to details with weeding, you can connect with the soil by transplanting. You can arrange flowers. You can chat with customers at the farm gate sales. If you tire of one task, there is always something else that needs doing. You can attend farm gate sales, pick up some veggies and tell your friends where you got it. Everything you do will be a huge help.
Loutet Farm is a social enterprise, so it is designed to be self-sustaining and cover its own operating costs. That is why we grow produce for sale. It is a financial machine that works, with the help of our volunteers – but it is so much more than that.
The bigger picture, for me, is that growing food is an accessible way to affect change. It is a way to be part of a solution. It is an avenue to tackle those dreaded global issues while feeding a neighbourhood. It is a way to care for the planet and nurture a community. It is a way to feel positive and give something back and know you’re making a real difference because you can see it and taste it. It is a way to provide more than just one meal, but the knowledge and skills to grow countless meals. Food is a simple, holistic solution to a lot of problems.
That is what I think the “magic” is – the thing that makes a community farm work. It provides a venue for people to contribute for a few hours, a few months, or, in many cases, a few years – and during that time they will have a real, lasting impact.
The best part of this story? We’ve got another five years of this to look forward to.
What do you think is behind the magic at Loutet Farm? What draws you to the local food movement? The global issues? The social aspect? The ecological and environmental services? The aesthetics and beauty of a mixed vegetable farm in the middle of a city? I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts in the comments.
Pssst : you can view our presentation to the Mayor and council HERE. Simply select “2 November 2015” from the dropdown menu, then scroll down the list of sections until you see “Delegation: Edible Garden Project re: Loutet Farm Update and License to Occupy”, or starting at 51:01 in the video.