Urban Farming Chugs Along in Vancouver – Second Urban Farmer Meeting

So on January 30 we had our second urban farmer meeting in an effort to develop an urban farming network.  This meeting was meant to act as a chance to more clearly define our shared goals and visions.  It was attended by about 25 urban farmers on a cold but sunny Sunday afternoon.

The meeting had basically four parts: Hopes and Fears, Clarifying a Vision, Opportunities and Challenges, and Working Groups.

The Hopes and Fears introduction was exactly as it sounds – what are your hopes and fears as this network gets developed and established?  Participants wrote down one of each on a sticky note and we posted them on the wall.  Then we could see what some of the common themes in the group were.  We also got feedback from others after the meeting by using an online survey.  We were able to come up with the following:

 

There was definitely a variety of hopes and fears, with dominant themes in both.

The biggest hope was simply that of increased collaboration and cooperation between farmers resulting in benefits for everyone. Capacity building was also an important theme.

In contrast, the themes in the fears were a bit more varied with two main concerns being that this process is not able to deliver or will fade away without producing any results and that it will remain too exclusive and be more trendy than effective in increasing the sustainability of urban farming.

I have been referring to this image often and have been thinking about different ways to address these hopes and fears.  I also wonder how many of the fears are actually peoples’ expectations.

This was definitely a good exercise to get an idea of what is going on in people’s minds.  My hope is that people work to alleviate the fears while recognizing and acknowledging the hopes.

 

We followed this up with an exercise in small groups to share our visions for the network.  This was a longer exercise that resulted in a fairly concise list.  This list gives us a good idea of what the network would actually do!

  • Support one another through collaboration, sharing skills, knowledge, experience, resources.
  • Common voice/body with legitimacy and credibility (representative, speaks to power and public clearly, effectively; dependable, accountable, reflective, effective).
  • Advocates* to build profile of the sector, build supportive policy, create demand, eliminate impediments, etc.
  • Demonstrate economically viable urban farming (definitions do exist); strategic goal to support the success of the field/network – not necessarily a shared value statement. Urban farmers “earn a living wage” as an indicator.
  • Demonstrate ecologically viable urban farming
  • Document/communicate* successes of existing farms, enhance that at the individual farm level, but also collectively increase marketing*, funding, profit, mentorship*, expansion, start-ups.
  • Outreach – documentation, replicable models. Expand local community and bio-regional understanding of the issues and opportunities.
  • Communication – keep in touch, scope/share opportunities, build a community base for mutual support.
  • Training – internal capacity building focused on the supply side.
  • Research collaborations on critical issues, link to research bodies, etc.
  • Clarify/strengthen/respond to shared values of a healthy urban food system we want to be part of; serves as root/foundation for the rest of our network (e.g. healing, regenerating, etc.);
  • Ethical and sustainable vision to guide all the activities of the network, with structures for people to access food and heal planet at same time; recognize the environment we are operating in (risks/changes at all scales).

From this list I would now like to look and see what we are already doing and how it fits with these visions as well as develop actions to bring other visions to fruition.

 

Then we moved onto challenges and opportunities with urban farming in a similar exercise.  For this exercise we ended up with a table of themes and the opportunities and challenges that lie within these themes.

 

Subject opps challenges
Dependent on external inputs/trends (seeds, soil, cc, peak oil) Due to pop. density can take waste products* and turn them to inputs; distributed seed saving, etc. Opps. to re-localize Our dependency on extrenal inputs
Land* Remediation possible
Lots of land is available at different scales; needs fuller conversation
Access to land; tenure
Toxic lands
Densification/gentrification
Political/social pressures
Communications Good comms infra internally
If share info externally, can draw people into the issues and work
Funding more attention and pots coming on-stream
easier to get as a group
Lots of competitions
Harder as individuals
Need for local food with big pop. Growing awareness re eat local
Growing infra
Lots of demand
Competition w/ existing players
Little general awareness
Diversity Engagement of diverse communities around food Participating pops could be more diverse at all levels
Govt. Policy GCAT
Charles re CRA/GST
Policy alignment with councils
Implement the rhetoric
Hold accountable
Connection between food and sustainability
Bureaucracy moves slowly does not understand us
HST – GST
Urban farming operates at a different scale
Red tape, regulations
Organizational credibility Change rhetoric Establish leadership and accountability internally
Financial and human resources Network allows skills dev and pool resources/knowledge Finding common interests, avoiding conflict; how to work well together in all senses when there is so much complexity
Moral high ground Resource constraints: low capital, equity, influence, etc.
Opportunity to build capacity and create jobs Time to stay involved and keep it relevant
Urbanization Trends People in cities need food Expectations re cheap food
Social equity issues
Demographics Making urban farming cool
Lots of cachet right now
Mostly white middle class movement, not representative
Fad or movement? Social inertia/resist change

 

This last exercise contrasts well with the first one.  While we can use our visions to move us forward, we can use this list to help ensure those visions can move forward effectively and to most people’s satisfaction.

 

After these first exercises we then pulled out some themes that appeared to be the most important or most mentioned as topics that should be focused on.  These were as follows:

  • Communications/Outreach/Inreach (e.g. databases)
  • Research and education
  • Planning Body (decision making / support / common values / funding issues)
  • Policy/Advocacy
  • Demonstration activities (ecol/econ)

They are summarized below:

1. Demonstrating Ecological and Economic Value of Urban Farming

  • Develop web presence and link to farmers with skills to share
    • Repository of urban farming knowledge
    • What is happening and where?
      • Work parties
      • Workshops
      • UF Tours
    • Workshops – demonstrating value to urban farmers
      • Farming skills
        • wide variety of topics
      • Business planning
      • taxes
      • marketing
      • time mgmt.

2. Research and Education

  • Inventory
    • Skills; land available, education programs; markets; successful business models.
    • What is available that we can already utilize?
  • Linking Farmes with research who can answer questions
  • Workshops
    • Pro-D for farmers
    • Workshops led by farmers
  • Business aspects of farming
  • Finding local expertise
  • Showcase successful strategies
  • Connecting to public
  • Capacity building
  • Best practices/skill sharing
  • Green book of UF resources (on website?)
  • Outreach – different languages/cultures

3. Policy/Advocacy

  • Nobody chose this topic, though it came up as very important in most discussions!

4. Communications

  • Internal
    • Protocol
    • document/info dissemination
    • Usigne-message boards/listserv
  • External
    • Social media (twitter, FB)
    • Web presence
      • open blog
      • message board
      • multiple administrators
    • Physcial media
      • branding – logo, stockers, signage
      • newsletter
    • Media relations – publicity, exposure, awareness
    • PR – who can speak for the group
    • Press releases – events, successes
    • Fundraising
      • raise $ with ads on blog/site/newsletter
      • Identify corporations we can advetise for (ethical issue?)

5. Planning Body

  • Planning body for current project and for official UFN
    • What governing structure do people envision?
      • And how much are they able to participate?
    • Working from shared values (discussed in Block 1)
  • How do we make decisions?
  • Importance of communications
    • Internal and External
  • Planning body acts as meta group to connect working groups and members

 

So this one meeting gathered a lot of information about what is happening in urban farming here in Vancouver.  Now we just need to take this information and turn it into some actions!

 

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