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Land assets and the multi billion dollar agri-food business

By BYCOOP admin - Posted on 30 November 2012

From the Delta Optimist....
When discussing commercial or infrastructure development, many people like to lament about ‘paving over farm land’. What about those who are farming over paved land?
Greenhouse operators use a very small footprint to produce a large percentage of product that contributes greatly to our food economy.
We have all heard by now of rooftop gardens and vertical gardens, brownfield gardens and even urban gardening guerillas.
An amazing example of farming over paved lands exists in the idea of street farms at solefoodfarms in Vancouver. The site on Pacific boulevard next to BC place grew 40 or so types of fruits and vegetables in 3000 raised, portable garden boxes all farmed on a parking lot. Tons of food was and is being produced here and dozens of local residents are employed as farmers and retailers. Solefood farms is reckoned to be the largest producing urban farm in North America. Hotels and restaurants from all over Vancouver join regular consumers in buying the finely grown product.
This type of infrastructure allows for soil based horticulture to occur almost anywhere.
The provincial government wants to expand the agri-food economy from its current $10 billion to $14 billion in 5 years. They can do this by increasing commodity exports to China and elsewhere and they can develop smaller scale opportunities and employ thousands in our province as well. By thinking small as well as thinking big, a variety of innovative ideas can help us best use ALR or other land assets
In one recently completed study looking at under used ALR lands in Surrey, Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Institute for Sustainable Horticulture (ISH) determined that Surrey could more than double its current agricultural gate receipts of $153 million and create 2,500 jobs in small human scale profitable farming operations by using 3800 acres of underutilized ALR land.
Additionally, this more detailed approach to land use would ensure that the city of Surrey would have access to  24 types of food items all grown within city boundaries.
Man’s ingenuity suggests that our local agri-food system will continue to change as pressures are applied by various elements.
Large and small farming operations can exist together to contribute to community health.
We do need bodies to take on these jobs and horticultural opportunities however.
As Solefoodfarms founder Michael Ableman has said, farmers have been given a bad rap. He says that if we paid farmers what we pay doctors and lawyers, we wouldn’t need so many doctors and lawyers.
Education is key to getting much needed bodies in to the food systems of the future.
Our very own Delta School District is taking the lead here. They have developed an engaging “Hort in the Hood” program and are teaching kids about many aspects of the farming, science, processing and marketing of food in their “Project Pickle” initiative.
Collaborative mentoring programs for K-12 are already underway in Tsawwassen where all schools will have raised beds and/or courtyard gardens by the end of the year. North Delta and Ladner schools will be added to the fold in the new year.
Recognizing that school land assets can create local neighbourhood school farms will go a long way to stimulate interest for our students to pursue post secondary study in aspects of food science and hopefully move on to agri-food, farming and food system careers.

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