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Deconstructing Dinner

Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY

Nelson, B.C. Canada

 

August 31, 2006

 

Title: Farming In the City I

 

Producer/Host: Jon Steinman

Transcript: Vanessa Sanchez

 

JON STEINMAN: And you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner - a syndicated weekly one hour radio program produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. I'm your host Jon Steinman

 

Deconstructing Dinner is heard on radio stations across Canada from Victoria all the way to Halifax, and is additionally available in many Internet based formats that can be accessed from the Deconstructing Dinner website, which is www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.

 

Each week on this program we take apart our meals and look at how the food we choose to eat impacts our health, our well-being, our communities and cities, and perhaps most importantly, our planet. And if learning of these many impacts directs your food choices away from those that are perhaps not ethical, not environmentally friendly or just simply not healthy there is of course the question of, well, if not foods that travel thousands of kilometres, if not foods that are highly processed, packaged and environmentally damaging, well, then what alternatives exist.

 

One of the most referred to alternatives, and what is looking to be a glimpse into the future of food in North America - is the practice of Urban Agriculture. What is Urban Agriculture, well, for starters, if you grow any food in your backyard, on your balcony or inside your house, you are, practicing Urban Agriculture. But there's much more to Farming In the City than meets the eye, and today's broadcast will be the first of an ongoing series that will explore how it is communities and cities can begin looking inwards to source food as opposed to looking hundred if not thousands of kilometres away as is currently the food system we live in.

 

To help launch this series we will hear from Jac Smit, the president of the Washington D.C. based Urban Agriculture Network, we will hear from Wally Satzewich - an urban farmer in Saskatoon who is also the co-founder of SPIN Farming, and we'll hear from correspondent Andrea Langlois who visited with the LifeCycles Fruit Tree Project operating in Victoria.

 

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Before we explore this topic of Urban Agriculture, a quick note about the Deconstructing Dinner website - scrolling down to the bottom of the main page is a link that reads "help spread the word." Now as many of you are now aware, this program is a not-for-profit project that is produced at a not-for-profit radio station, and because we don't maintain an advertising budget that allows us to post up billboards or advertise on city buses, we have set up this page that contains a selection of Deconstructing Dinner posters that anyone can easily print up at home. Now the posters are designed for most of the stations that carry this program, and we are encouraging any of you listening who support this program to "help spread the word" and put up these posters in your schools, workplaces, coffee shops, grocery stores, or on poster boards around town. And again, you can find that link on the main page at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.

 

Moving on to today's topic of Urban Agriculture, perhaps we can quickly ask the question, Why Urban Agriculture. Now this question will be answered by my three guests who we will hear from just shortly, but as my first guest Jac Smit wrote in October of 2005, "The food system that we have created in the 19th and 20th Century does not work for over one third of the world's town and city residents," and as he indicates, this is the same issue in any country, whether it be the USA or Zimbabwe. Smit further writes, that "The 20th Century food system is ineffective for the poor and it is not ecologically sustainable for the 21st Century. He concluded in this article, that urban planners will be held accountable more than in the previous century to plan with nature."

 

And so I recently caught up with Jac Smit, who spoke to me over the phone from Washington D.C. Jac is the president of the Urban Agriculture Network, which founded in 1992, has visited over 30 countries in its advocacy for urban agriculture. The network was the creator of a critical book on urban agriculture for the United Nations and they can often be found at conferences around the world. Jac is a regular contributor to the Vancouver based City Farmer website - an extensive Canadian resource for urban agriculture information, and I'll provide you with that website later on the broadcast.

 

My conversation with Jac Smit began by addressing the language used to describe the activity of growing food within cities. When our culture speaks of "gardening" and gardens, we can associate these words with either landscapes of trees, plants and flowers, or we can visualize food - such as tomatoes, herbs or salad greens. And in the 21st Century, much of the language used to describe growing food within an urban environment, has abandoned this term gardening. And perhaps this is a necessary shift to begin addressing the importance of land within cities. And Jac Smit further explains the many terms now being used to illustrate this modern approach to farming in the city.

 

JAC SMIT: When we're talking urban agriculture in the 21st Century then gardening is a small part. We can't see that as being the dominant concepts. So the terms that are gaining some common usage. The first is the city farm, and this has caught on very much in Europe, most recently in England, and places like Manchester and Sheffield with declining industrial cities. I've seen it best expressed in Berlin but it's coming on here, and one of the best city farms in the U.S.A. is in Rochester, New York called The Vineyard. Another term which is coming into use is the metro-farm or metropolitan. And there's a radio program on Saturdays called Metro Farm coming out of Los Angeles and that's pushing that concept ahead. The term that I'm using recently and hasn't caught on yet, but I think is useful, is ‘productive urban landscape.' The concept of a productive urban landscape is gaining new common recognition in academic circles. The book was produced last year called Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes (CPULS) produced by the University of London. I wrote the foreword for it and it's a way of seeing productive landscape within the city from the rooftops to the fringe. So those are three things that are really gaining acceptance: city farm, metro farm and productive urban landscape.

 

The thing that's just over the horizon is eco-system services. What the heck does that mean? (laughs) As we're facing global warming and climate change we're developing slowly a way of looking at the value of a tree, the value of a garden, the value of a waste processing system like composting in slowing down global warming. And that can be done city by city. So eco-systems services will now be paid for and that's being handled in complicated ways that I won't get into but it's very important to look at that.

 

JON STEINMAN: Shortly on today's broadcast we will be hearing from one individual who has made a business out of farming within a city. While such a business is still a rare example of urban agriculture here in North America, Jac Smit did work with the United Nations on designing and managing a global initiative to establish urban agriculture as an industry. And as will be explored on future broadcasts of this Farming In the City series, Smit discovered how urban agriculture is already a significant economic generator throughout the world, and there is much we as North Americans can learn from these already functioning examples.

 

JAC SMITH: I studied for our global research project. I got into it because I saw the huge opportunity of some countries learning from other countries about urban agriculture, so that in China urban agriculture was well advanced and in many parts of Africa it was not. Urban agriculture was advancing very rapidly in Latin America and in parts of the Middle East it wasn't doing that type of thing. So, what I was looking for was identifying best practise and looking at ways of transferring it from those places that were doing it well to those places that were doing it less well. Remember, this is before the internet and all that communication possibility. So as I did the tour I realised about halfway through it that that wasn't necessary, that what was necessary for me to do was to be a reporter to speak as much as possible, write as much as possible, as to what urban agriculture was.

 

Now, the amazing thing Jon is that this had just been the elephant in the room. We found figures for instance in Russia that 70% of the families in Russia were raising food but only 60% in Moscow. But for the country as a whole the urban family's was 70%. We found in China that out of the 14 largest cities they were producing between two thirds and three quarters of the food consumed in those cities. Of those in metropolitan areas, not cities in the 19th Century concept, we found many places and this is a study done by the United Nations International Labour Organisation where urban agriculture was the largest, single largest employer provider of jobs in production, processing and distribution within cities in low income countries. So this was a discovery exercise and a reporting exercise that this was a very major economic activity, and that in fact many cities if you removed it from it there wouldn't be much there because this is the largest, single largest employer of the largest generator of income of low income families and income for the entire city.

 

JON STEINMAN: And you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner as we hear from The Urban Agriculture Network's Jac Smit. While Jac describes the many examples of growing food within cities that exist around the world, our North American cities are far different from many of these examples, and so I asked him where it is we can look to for guidance in adopting widespread usage of urban agriculture.

 

JAC SMIT: Well there's a couple of parts, couple of answers to that one about how North America is adapting and will adapt to producing food within urban areas. The models that are most appropriate for us to follow it would seem, would be Europe. So we'd be looking at France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain where urban agriculture is more advanced and the policies of legislation that they have are more advanced than what we have here. The issue that they are going to face is very different in one part of North America to another. The latest studies, carried out by MIT using British climate models find, for instance, that 50 years from now California's agricultural production will be reduced by half, so it'll be 50% of what it is now, where as in states such as Pennsylvania, on the east coast, the agricultural productivity potential will be double. That's supported by the NASA studies as well as the MIT using British climate model studies. So the adaption that we're going to make from one part of North America to another part of North America and including then a shift in some cases from rural agriculture to urban agriculture such as from California to Pennsylvania will be huge.

 

JON STEINMAN: As Jac Smit indicates, studies have shown that Pennsylvania represents a location that will possibly become a major centre of agricultural activity. And it is there in Philadelphia where an urban agriculture initiative has taken shape, that along with it's co-creator located in Saskatoon, is laying down the soil for a new way of looking at urban farming as an industry. And so we will hear from Jac Smit later on the broadcast and now jump over to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, which is the home of Wally Satzewich an urban farmer, and co-creator of what he along with Philadelphia-based Roxanne Christensen have named, SPIN Farming. And, along with Gail Vandersteen, Wally Satzewich has created a business out of farming in a city, and he does so on the property of over a dozen homeowners within the city. Wally has referred to his business as the small-scale revolution. And he spoke to me over the phone from his home in Saskatoon to explain what this revolution is all about.

 

WALLY SATZEWICH: Well, basically I'd define the small-scale revolution as being a sub-acre lawn. The SPIN farming website, basically the writings that are geared towards the potential of sub-acre farming and sub-acre in this case means an acre or less of productive land so that way this is rather contrary to the belief that you need multi-acres or tens of acres in production to make a living from agriculture or horticulture.

 

JON STEINMAN: While such an innovative idea of small-scale farming within a city may first appear to be a spontaneous business plan, this concept was arrived at through an evolutionary process, starting from their attempts at large-scale farming in the rural areas of Saskatchewan. As is often referred to on this program, Canadian farmers are increasingly finding it far too difficult to remain on the farm, and often are forced to relocate to cities and find jobs in other industries. But as was the case with Wally and Gail, these very same issues led them to move their farm, into the city.

 

WALLY SATZEWICH: It certainly was an evolution, like when I initially started market gardening about 15 or 16 years ago. I mean, I had lived in the city and I had always lived in the city. We'd bought an acreage about 8 miles west of town and I started small scale farming on an acre of land out there. And I completely discounted the potential of the city and there was nothing out there in the literature in terms of farming approaches that really understood the potential of urban farming and particularly sub-acre farming. So we had the farm or the acreage out in the country and for a number of years I was just sort of breaking myself into market gardening on that acre of land. And beyond us at that time, I never really understood the potential of that acre, if I did I wouldn't have sold the acreage.

 

After I met my wife Gail, we thought the best way for us to proceed with our operation was to expand it into the tens of acres of size, so we sold that acreage and then we bought some farmland next to the south Saskatchewan River and we basically made a pretty large investment, went to the Irrigation Board, we got set up fairly a major irrigation system. We thought that was the future for us and then, we slowly started discovering that we were still doing okay but finding out that a) out in the country it's really hard to grow the high value of crops such as spinach, lettuce, just leafy greens and b) there are a few other crops that are particularly high in value that it's next to impossible to grow out in the country because of wildlife, deer to name a few were problems out there.

 

We still lived in the city, we commuted out there and this time we were actually commuting a further distance, was about a 40 minute drive. What it amounted to was over a course of several years we had to concentrate on lower value crops out there like potatoes, beans, peas, onions and some garlic. Over time it became apparent that the large tens of acres production wasn't going to work for us because for another reason, we had to rely on work crews, and work crews we discovered were next to impossible to assemble. There was one year where basically no one wanted to work for me, people don't like agricultural work around here, especially if it involves planting onion sets or whatever. So to become aligned to work crews that were really hard to assemble, really wasn't a good formula for success.

 

Eventually, our neighbour made an offer on our land, and we figured why not go for it. I was, at that time just starting to become aware of the potential of urban farming because of the success I had on my home plot and my uncle's plot. And I thought if I spend the production of the higher value crops and grow less of these lower value crops, such as potatoes like the ones I mentioned, if I grow those on a smaller scale basis in the city here on some garden plots I can rent from other people and just see what happens. And gradually over the course of 5, 6, 7 years we just got more and more garden plots and it just became increasingly successful.

 

JON STEINMAN: As Wally explained this evolutionary process that led him to begin farming in the city, I couldn't help but question how one goes about approaching homeowners and asking them to rent out their backyards.

 

WALLY SATZEWICH: Well, initially it was me approaching them. I put an ad in the paper, just said "garden plots wanted to rent" and I got a number of responses in my very first year. From the homeowners' perspective it was a great deal, I might pay them let's say $100 which would cover the water and help keep care of their backyard. And this saves them from having to maintain it. If it wasn't a garden before, if they don't garden there they would have to rototiller it a couple of times a year and for a lot of people that's just a hassle. So having us back there saves them from having to upkeep the backyard plus they get some rent money and usually they get a little bit of produce too. So from their perspective it was a pretty good deal. Like another example would be landlords, we have a couple of landlords that have backyards and usually the renters don't garden so they have to make the decision to turn the backyard into lawn which just means more maintenance for the landlord, having to water it and cut it once a week, it's a huge hassle for a landlord. So, in many cases actually about 25% of our garden plots are from landlords that have rental properties and they just give them to us for nothing and/or just a bit of produce.

 

JON STEINMAN: Wally is currently operating his business on 15 properties throughout the city of Saskatoon, and while one may think that most backyard gardens all look the same, the plots that Wally farms on appear much differently to the passing eye, and he explains.

 

WALLY SATZEWICH: Well, our gardens are completely different from home gardens. If you looked at one of our garden plots, we don't have twenty different vegetables like a home garden, a little patch of lettuce or a little patch of this or a little patch of that, each garden is used, usually planted into one or two crops, so it kind of looks like a mini farm and it's laid out using more strategic planting. We use cedars, garden cedar, so our gardens look totally different from a home garden. Like one garden we have is about, probably, 1,500 square feet and it's in nothing but green beans. Another one is in nothing but shallots. Another one is in nothing but potatoes. And that makes it more efficient in terms of planting, it's easier to take care of and easier to manage.

 

JON STEINMAN: Wally's business is certainly one that is unique, and within Saskatoon, currently one-of-a-kind, but urban farming, while different in techniques, is not so different from the traditional activity of gardening. But gardening is one of many activities that could be placed on an endangered list, as meticulously cut lawns seem to be the modern approach to managing ones land. And Wally explains this concern.

 

WALLY SATZEWICH: Home gardening is definitely on the decline. I mean, this neighbourhood here used to be thriving with gardens, and this was more the pre-war generation, people born, let's say, before the war. They probably had a pretty strong gardening tradition and they maintained that tradition up until probably twenty years ago where people my age, in their forties. I would say the gardening tradition really was lost with the baby-boom generation and it's even more far gone with the generation X or whatever subsequent generations. Basically, I would say that kids of 18, 19, 20 there's really no home gardening tradition being taught by the parents because it's been very weak with their parents.

 

Consequently there's a lot of garden space in the city that is totally underutilised and there's a significant amount of people though they like to see gardens couldn't in their backyards. From my perspective that's great for me, it just allows me to increase my land base or I can be sort of choosy in terms of what gardens I want to garden. But it also allows me to sort of look at it at a broader context of hey, we're really doing something here in terms of local food production, local food security. A lot of people are really unaware of the issue of that.

 

Given global warming and the threats out there concerning food production, not having any local food production is not a good option for cities. I feel like I'm contributing at level also.

 

JON STEINMAN: The decline in home gardening, or in the case of today's broadcast, urban farming, was most recently illustrated when ABC News recently featured a story that exposed a front lawn in Los Angeles that has been converted into an edible garden. Now, while the story is certainly worthy of headlines, there's little doubt that such a story, would not have existed 75 years ago when growing food at home was as commonplace then, as watering lawns is today.

 

But lawns nevertheless assist in growing food, and Wally Satzewich does benefit from many of the neighbours lawns surrounding the properties he farms on.

 

WALLY SATZEWICH: We use a lot of organic material on our gardening, like grass clippings. We use our neighbours grass clippings for mulching down some of our garden areas. We just hate the idea of people throwing away grass clippings but most people still tie into the cut your lawn once a week, harvest the grass clippings and throw it into the garbage bin, and to me that's just ludicrous. In a lot of our garden plots we have compost areas where the homeowner composts and we work the compost into the soil. We get coffee grounds from Starbucks because they give away coffee grounds. Cities are the endpoint of consumption and so many of these wastes that we generate can be used as compostable materials that can be used as fertilisers. To me that's the ultimate chain and irony that there's no looping enclosed here on that end so we like to feel that we're contributing in that regard also.

 

JON STEINMAN: As Wally Satzewich's urban farming takes advantage of the many end points of consumption within a city; urban environments additionally provide a space where certain crops can flourish much more so than in rural areas. And Wally describes some of these advantages.

 

WALLY SATZEWICH: That's one of the issues I really didn't really understand when I first began market gardening when I had that acreage out in the country. We tried growing leafy greens, lettuces, and then we'd come there every morning and we'd see deer there basically just grazing on your lettuce. Wildlife is one factor, and you don't have that problem in the city so you can grow high valued crops usually without too much difficulty.

 

The other factor is the micro climate benefit, given that cities, urban areas are heat islands they tend to warm up quicker in the springtime. Here in Saskatoon we're usually the first ones out with produce in the springtime. This year, we had produce in mid-May, and that was several weeks before some of the larger growers of the country. Land just seems to dry out more quickly here in the city. We can get small areas into production, at least two, three, four weeks sometimes before some of the growers out in the county. So there's a major advantage there in terms of getting your production in earlier, and then also in the fall time the frosts are concerned here. Frost tends to occur later here in the city and sometimes we'll miss them altogether. Last year there was a frost in late August out in the country that basically wiped out the green bean crop, but here in the city it wasn't affected. Effectively, we were the only ones at the farmers market selling green beans during the couple of weeks around early September, which to me I thought "man this is pretty significant. Some larger growers that are completely wiped out and here we are in the city growing green beans." We never got fazed by that cost at all. There's micro-climate benefits there in terms of the fall time too. And then the wind storms don't tend to be strong in the city so you have a lot of wind protection.

 

And then in terms of water supply, that's another one when you grow in the country. If you're watering from your well you have to constantly monitor the quality of the water, you have to get it tested for E. coli or for this and that. Here in the city, the city already does that for you. They pump it right to your yard site and all you have to do is turn on a water faucet and you have water. To me that's a huge factor in urban farming, it just makes it so much more desirable to farm in the city.

 

JON STEINMAN: And you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner - a weekly one-hour radio program heard on Radio Stations across Canada and on the Internet. This program is produced and recorded at Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. We are currently hearing clips from my conversation with Wally Satzewich, an urban farmer located in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. And yet another advantage as Wally mentioned of farming within a city, is the water source. While in the past, rural water sources may have proven to be clean and pure, the pollution of these water sources from chemical agriculture and the widespread application of antibiotic and chemically-laden manure from industrial farming operations has turned many water sources, into dangerous ones.

 

WALLY SATZEWICH: A lot of growers probably are quite hesitant in growing stuff like lettuces out in the country, especially if they have to water it with river water which definitely does have E. coli in it. That doesn't make a food supply sound too palatable knowing that your Romaine lettuce has been harvested with river water. To me, the idea that it's been watered with high quality water and it's been washed in good quality city water makes for more secure food supply also.

 

JON STEINMAN: The style of farming that Wally practices along with Philadelphia urban farmer Roxanne Christensen has led to what they have called SPIN Farming or Small Plot Intensive Farming. The business has been created as a way to provide others with the necessary resources required for anyone wishing to adopt the same business model that both Wally and Roxanne now extract their income from. But one interesting difference between the two operations is the level of attention that governments have paid to both businesses. In Philadelphia for example, Roxanne Christensen's Somerton Tanks Farm has garnered interest from both municipal and state governments, whereas in Saskatoon, Wally has not received much attention at all. And as Wally indicates, urban agriculture as a whole is receiving much more attention south of the border than it is here in Canada.

 

WALLY SATZEWICH: It just seems like the U.S. is ahead of us in terms of urban farming, there's so many cities right now that are getting onto the idea of making their cities less vulnerable to possible food disruptions in the food system. So, they are really looking seriously at enhancing local food productions. Philadelphia is one example, Milwaukee is another one. For whatever reason in Canada, I think it's just starting to get onto the radar screen.

 

JON STEINMAN: As part of the SPIN Farming project, both Wally and Roxanne have made a number of guides available for purchase on their website, which those interested in starting an urban farming business can use to get off the ground, or should we say into the ground. These guides were only launched this year and Wally explains the current success of these resources.

 

WALLY SATZEWICH: I think up to date we've gotten several hundred orders since inception which was January. So it looks like the response has been really good considering it's year one. And it seems to be resonating with a lot of people which is making sense. It's going to take years for people to fully, successfully implement. In year one basically your buyer is probably just going to read about it. You really won't see any large scale success stories probably until maybe 2, 3, 4 years from now once people start absorbing information and trying to implement it. You just can't implement in year one and hope for it to be success. Although there are several people out there that are implementing in year one. They've bought our guides highly aware of our approach and they've made serious attempts at either multi-locational farming in a city or out in the country. There's probably thousands of people that have come to the website, hundreds of people who have bought our publications and there's probably maybe a hundred or so people that are trying it right now.

 

JON STEINMAN: These guides to start an urban farming business, or otherwise known as SPIN farming, can be found on their website, which is www.spinfarming.com, and in wrapping up my conversation with Wally Satzewich, he ended with these remarks on the importance of food security.

 

WALLY SATZEWICH: I would say that it's pretty alarming how dependable we are on large scale production systems located hundreds if not thousands of miles away. To me, that doesn't speak of viability or sustainability. Already you're hearing about the heat wave in California and some of the vegetable growing areas, crops have suffered.

 

If global warming proceeds at the pace it's suppose to a lot of these vegetable growing areas are either going to be wiped out or produce prices are going to go through the roof. The idea of not having any production in a city, to me, just doesn't seem to make your city very viable or sustainable because a) you're not making use of all the compostable, organic materials and b) you're not making use of the resources that are already in the city mainly land and water. To me, it doesn't make any sense to water lawns when you could be watering vegetables and saving on the cost involved with trucking vegetables from California, which is a huge environmental cost there. I'd like to see more production occurring closer to where people live and not just in para-urban areas but in the actual city centers themselves. In my mind, that would involve a rejuvenation of a lot of these areas that are probably going under a state of decline right now. A lot of these areas in cities are older, some of the less prosperous areas of the city but if you kind of turn them around with some agriculture happening on some of these garden plots, I think that would definitely have a rejuvenating value to these neighbourhoods and for the city itself. To me, the idea of living in a city that doesn't have any local food supplies makes me pretty nervous.

 

JON STEINMAN: And that was Wally Satzewich - an urban farmer from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. And you can find out more about Wally on the Spin Farming website or by visiting marketgardening.com.

 

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JON STEINMAN: Towards the latter part of today's broadcast we will here again from Jac Smit of the Urban Agriculture Network who we heard from earlier on the broadcast. Jac will help list some more innovative approaches to urban agriculture here on today's broadcast of Deconstructing Dinner. And again, if you are just tuning in, today's broadcast marks the first of an ongoing series titled Farming In the City, a series that will explore many innovative approaches to growing food in an urban environment. As current forms of agriculture and food production are increasingly being seen as unsustainable into the 21st Century, the many approaches to urban agriculture perhaps, represent the future of food. And yet another example of urban farming that has seen a number of similar projects launched throughout British Columbia, is that of Fruit Tree Picking programs like that orchestrated by the Victoria-based LifeCycles Project Society.

 

LifeCycles is a non-profit organisation dedicated to cultivating awareness and initiating action around food, health, and urban sustainability within the Greater Victoria community. And one of these projects is the Fruit Tree Project, which sees groups of volunteers take advantage of the incredible array of fruit trees that are neglected throughout the city. And instead of going to waste, the fruit ends up in the hands of not-for-profit groups that respond to those in need of food, and the project has even teamed up with local businesses who use the fruit in their products. And Deconstructing Dinner's Victoria correspondent Andrea Langlois caught up with the project and went along on a pick - as they are referred to. But first Andrea sat down with Beth Sobieszczyk - the coordinator and social enterprise manager of the project, and Beth explains when and why the project was launched.

 

BETH SOBIESZCZYK: Well, it began in 1998 and I believe that it was a gentleman who decided that what's going on here is that there's tons of fruit in Victoria that's going to waste and we need to do something about it. Because food security is a very important issue especially here on an island, and we need to do something about preserving that fruit and distributing it to the people in need.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: So at that time there were just a lot of fruit in peoples yards that was going to waste?

 

BETH SOBIESZCZYK: Yeah, basically it's peoples' backyards trees. I think he saw all of the fruit falling off the trees every year and he just got sick of it, and decided we have to do something about it. And then, in 2000 LifeCycles took it over and made it a formal project.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: Maybe you could speak a little bit more to the issue of what it means to pick fruit in an urban environment like Victoria.

 

BETH SOBIESZCZYK: Well, I think food security here in Victoria is essential because we're on an island. And say for instance there's a problem with the ferries or problems with the air cargo coming in which it's mostly done by ferries though, we would have a breakdown in our food system. I think 90% of our food I've heard comes from outside, off the island. So, why not harvest what's right there at our backyards and turn everyone's neighbourhood into an orchard? So what we do is go around and we pick the fruit off of peoples trees. And we have a group of volunteers who does that. We have a team leader who leads the pick and then a group volunteers. And then after they do the pick they distribute it to different food agencies around town.

 

JON STEINMAN: While growing food within a city is rarely associated with fruit trees and orchards, cities like Victoria used to contain a thriving industry that has left many of these trees now in the backyards or front yards of homeowners.

 

BETH SOBIESZCZYK: We have trees I think that go back 150 years ago. Victoria and this whole area and the starting islands even down into the Puget Sound and that area, this was the orchard producing area of Canada and of the Pacific North West, and basically into the Oak Noggin they took over and decided to do more orchard planting. And so because they had more of an infrastructure for transportation it became the hub, whereas here in Victoria we didn't have that infrastructure set up.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: So, now most of the trees it seems are in peoples yards, that's what you're picking. How do you get in contact with them?

 

BETH SOBIESZCZYK: Well, yeah, lots of the trees are in people's yards because of sub-divisions and things that happened and the trees have remained in some situations, and lots of times people have planted new trees. We've basically, over the years just advertised in newspapers and through word of mouth and telling people "we have this resource out there." We even have little forms that we drop in peoples' front door steps if they have a tree that needs picking and we even call it a recruited tree form. And so we try to get more people involved as well.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: You spoke a little bit about team leaders and the volunteer side of it. Could you take us through this process? The homeowners contact you and then what happens?

 

BETH SOBIESZCZYK: Yes, so the homeowners contact us or we contact the homeowners if we have records of picking their tree in the past and then we ask them to register their tree. A new way this year is online because we're trying to limit the amount of hours that the coordinator puts into managing the project. So they do so online and we ask them, I think it's 8 questions that everyone who goes to pick the tree needs to know. For instance, do you have a high yield on your tree, is there anything specific about your property, do you have a compost if there is some severely rotten fruit that we can't donate. And then the way it works is that we get team leaders and volunteers to sign up based on the location and whatever fruit is there to be picked. Then the team leader drives the van with a number of volunteers or volunteers meet people there and they pick the tree together with a bunch of ladders and some hand pickers from Lee Value that they donated and they pick the fruit off the tree. That usually takes about two hours or so depending on the number of trees on the property. And then they deliver it to the food agencies in town. They have a big list of all the food agencies that they can deliver to and the times when it's best to do so.

 

JON STEINMEN: As correspondent Andrea Langlois continued her conversation with Beth Sobiescyck they discussed where the fruit goes and what fruit is being picked.

 

BETH SOBIESZCZYK: When we pick the fruit a third of it goes to the homeowner if they would like it, a third goes to the people who pick it and then a third goes to the food agencies and the project. That's just a rough estimate, it's often the case that the homeowner doesn't even want any of the fruit and the volunteers choose to take what is called wind-fall, fruit that has fallen onto the ground because they know where it came from and how it fell on the ground. They know to wash it before they use it. And we don't want to distribute anything that's fallen on the ground to the distribution agencies because we're fearful of E. coli and we don't want anyone to get sick because of the fruit, so they always get the fruit that's been handpicked off of the tree.

 

The way it works is we have a beautiful 1992 Dodge Voyager (laughs) that we load up all of the fruit into and the team leader's in charge of picking whatever organisation they'd like to pick to donate the fruit to. And so they deliver it to the doorstep. I think a lot of them, that's pretty much everyone's favourite part of the job is seeing the gratification, getting the gratification of seeing people's eyes light up when this fresh fruit that they couldn't ordinarily afford, well that the people couldn't ordinarily afford is delivered to their doorstep. They just go, they get so excited about fresh apples, I mean, who knew that fresh apples could bring so much joy to someone's life.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: What kind of groups are they?

 

BETH SOBIESZCZYK: People in need, we deliver to soup kitchens, to homeless shelters, to drug rehab centers. Basically to anyone that doesn't have access to fresh fruit on a daily basis.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: Do you find that the project is kind of filling a gap in terms of food security for marginalised people?

 

BETH SOBIESZCZYK: Oh, definitely. I don't know the statistics on it but I think that the government actually decided that there was a lack of fresh produce in the diets of people in need. And I think that we are serving that, at least in the summer months when we are producing fruit in Victoria.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: So what kinds of fruit are we talking about?

 

BETH SOBIESZCZYK: Well, we start off with peaches if we can get them but that's pretty rare and cherries as well, those aren't always good crops here. And then we move into transparent apples which are the green ones with the light skin that are best for cooking and making apple sauce. And then we get into golden plums and then the purple plums, and then it comes back to pears and apples. We pretty much end the season with apples in late October, early November.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: Someone said yesterday when I was picking with them something about picking figs once that must be a rarity.

 

BETH SOBIESZCZYK: (laughs) It is a rarity, we did have one woman who said she had a beautiful fig tree and she loves the tree but hates figs and come and get them. I know everyone was jumping and getting onto that tree.

 

JON STEINMAN: Deconstructing Dinner correspondent Andrea Langlois joined some of LifeCycles many volunteers who head out throughout the city to pick fruit, and one of the volunteers Andrea caught up with was Erin Prescott, one of the team leaders. And here's that interview.

 

ERIN PRESCOTT: My name is Erin Prescott and I am from Victoria and I'm picking some fruit.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: So, how many picks have you been on this year?

 

ERIN PRESCOTT: Actually, this is my first one, they weren't able to do evenings for a while and I work during the day. So now I will be able to do evenings, so I picked a bit last year as well.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: What kind of fruit are you picking here?

 

ERIN PRESCOTT: Today, it's purple plums, I'm not sure what their actual name is, as well as there's some pears in the yard.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: Where are they going to end up after you're done picking?

 

ERIN PRESCOTT: Some of them will end up with the owner of the house, they've asked for some of them. A portion will end up with the pickers, the people that are volunteering to pick and then about a third of the fruit or half of the fruit goes a local charity such as the Mustard Seed or there's a number of different charities.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: What's your motivation for being here?

 

ERIN PRESCOTT: I like being outside, I like picking fruit. I like seeing people's fruit being used, so it's great to be able to pick some fruit and have some of it go to good places.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: Do you have an understanding of the implication of the fruit that gets picked by the Fruit Tree Project for these community groups?

 

ERIN PRESCOTT: I'm not sure directly, I know I've brought them into the community groups before and people were just snatching them out, really happy to have it and so that was part of the motivation to it. It was neat to see people really appreciate having fresh fruit to eat.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: We're under a plum tree right now with the big ladder you put out. Is it really very complicated to pick plums?

 

ERIN PRESCOTT: No, it's definitely not complicated. It is useful that LifeCycles has some big ladders and some pickers, and some equipment that you don't always have in your backyard. We load up the van with the ladder and the pickers. It's pretty easy, lots of people, good time.

 

JON STEINMAN: Along with the team leader is of course a brigade of volunteers who in the case of the pick that Andrea Langlois went on consisted of both adults and even children. And Andrea spoke with a couple of the volunteers.

 

MABEL: I am Mabel and we are at someone's house close to Maplewood.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: And what kind of fruit are you picking today?

 

MABEL: We're picking pears and plums.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: How long have you been a volunteer with the Fruit Tree Project?

 

MABEL: This is actually my first time picking, so I've been a volunteer for a total of ten minutes.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: So why did you decide that you wanted to volunteer with this project?

 

MABEL: I wanted to get more involved in any kind of organic agriculture and community based type of volunteering so this seemed like the right kind of opportunity. It seemed like a fun way to get out there and contribute.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: Are you excited about eating fruit?

 

MABEL: Oh yeah, for sure and canning fruit which is the plan tomorrow.

 

background noise

 

RENADA: My name is Renada Nassiringer and I am here picking fruit today. I've picked for three years, this is my third year. I also lead some picks.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: I saw you up on the ladder you are one of the brave volunteers. (laughs)

 

RENADA: Maybe, (laughs) this little more challenging of a yard because it's more slanted so we have to be careful how we place the ladders.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: What was your motivation behind starting?

 

RENADA: I just think we should be eating fruit in season. I think we should be eating the fruit that's growing right here, rather than going to the grocery store. I also like how it brings down your grocery bills but I like the people you meet, you get to see really interesting backyards. And just for the whole food sustainability issue, we need to be preserving our fruit trees and the food here.

 

background noise

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: What kind of fruit have you picked this year?

 

RENADA: We've picked transparent apples, golden plums, pears and these plums now, purple plums. I'm not always sure of the name, I'd love to be able to identify some more of the fruits.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: What do you do with the fruit that you bring home?

 

RENADA: Well I give it a lot to my neighbours, if I have a lot or I can and make jam and make cakes and make wine or whatever, it depends on how much fruit I have. I also distribute it to various of the needy groups throughout Victoria, I help with distributing it. And I'd like to get involved with doing the secondary, they'd like to do more with the fruit like have, they collaborate with other businesses so we can have value added products and other businesses get involved to help sustain this project because they've lost a lot of funding. It's a whole new year, this year they way they're doing things do they're just trying to get going.

 

background noise

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: What's it like to be one of the people that goes and distributes it to these groups that need food?

 

RENADA: It feels good, a lot of people to go to and a lot of people out there love, well they mostly like fruit when they can just eat it and its ripe ready, ripe right then.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: So what kind of places have you delivered the fruit to?

 

RENADA: I've delivered it to community living associations which is like group homes and to single parent resource centers, to women shelters, to Mustard Seed, to Aids Vancouver Island.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: And what do you think the motivation is with the tree owners to have LifeCycles volunteers come here and pick their trees?

 

RENADA: Well, I think they get it's a win-win-win. It's one of those great situations, the homeowner wins, the pickers wins and the community wins. They get some fruit, food picked for them and they also feel like they're doing something, they're giving something back to the community. They usually get their, all the area the fruit that falls, we usually pick it all up and clean it up afterwards. And they're left with a nice little space around the tree when it would just be all falling down fruit otherwise.

 

JON STEINMAN: And you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner - produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. A reminder that should you miss any of today's broadcast or want to find out more about this program, you can visit our website at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner. That last clip was courtesy of correspondent Andrea Langlois who visited a fruit tree pick conducted by the Victoria-based LifeCycles Project Society. And this is part of today's broadcast which is exploring urban agriculture and marks the first of an ongoing series here on the program titled Farming in the City.

 

In returning to Andrea's interview with LifeCycles Beth Sobiescyck, they discussed how the project has now partnered with local businesses who are turning the fruit picked by volunteers, into products. And Beth explains why they have taken on these partnerships.

 

BETH SOBIESZCZYK: We're trying to look at it as a way raise money for the project, to make it self-sustaining. Ideally, we would not like to charge homeowners for the service of picking and we'd like to make the project self-sustaining. We have had trouble getting funding from funding sources for the project. They like to, people like to fund external activities associated with the Fruit Tree Project but not necessarily the Fruit Tree Project itself. So, we decided that we need to become independent and last year began with our partner Shady Creek Ice Cream. They created something called apple spice ice cream which was absolutely delicious and it was sold in the Canoe Club and also the Superior Cafe. Now, we're trying to expand that restaurant base this year and even expand the flavour base with Shady Creek. We're also working with Truffles Catering, they have been very supportive. Jenaveve who is the chef there, she gets it. She understands what food security is all about. Right now she's making a yellow plum with rose petal sauce, and that is great for everyone who enjoys high teas of course. Then, in late September that's when we pick our quince trees and she's going to be making a quince paste, which will hopefully get into all of the restaurants and local delis in town.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: The Fruit Tree Project right now is structured as a social service in that money received gets reinvested as a non-profit. Do you see any potential from private interests to adopt this model of picking fruit and not paying for it but then selling it for a profit?

 

BETH SOBIESZCZYK: Yeah, I've actually never thought about anyone doing that, I haven't heard of anyone trying to do that. We are in a way trying to do that with this whole social enterprise, creating a business out of the non-profit agency but having the non-profit run the business. There are some contentious issues, people don't know, we're kind of debating right now whether we could sell the fruit outright because there is a market for it. There are people who want to sell it through their box program. There are restaurants that want us to bring them fresh fruit. There are stores that don't have the capability of determining what item was sold when because usually all of our products when we do sell them, we get a percentage and they don't have the ability to go through their cash register and figure out how many of whatever product they sold, because they're small so they would rather just buy the product outright from us or buy the fruit outright from us. It could be a good potential business for someone who really wanted to take it and do it. But we hope that LifeCycles will be able to do that and venture into the world of social enterprise.

 

ANDREA LANGLOIS: Do you see a lot of room for this project to grow?

 

BETH SOBIESZCZYK: Oh, there's great potential for this project to grow. If we had a lot more money we could do so much more with everything that we have, but unfortunately we're limited with time and money. But there is a great potential for it to grow, just the amount of products that we can create, the amount of restaurants who are willing to align themselves with our positive social message. A lot of them understand the need to have local food in their restaurants.

 

JON STEINMAN: And that was Beth Sobiescyk of the LifeCycles Project Society based in Victoria. I want to thank correspondent Andrea Langlois for that segment. You can find out more about the project or for anyone who wants to volunteer by visiting the LifeCycles website which is www.lifecyclesproject.ca. But for those of you listening in other parts of British Columbia, there are a number of identical fruit tree picking projects underway. In Nelson, for example, the Earth Matters group is yet again looking for trees to pick; there is also the Vancouver Fruit Tree Project, as well as the Richmond Fruit Tree Sharing Project. And you can find links to all of these by visiting the webpage for today's broadcast at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner

 

soundbite

 

JON STEINMAN: In rounding off today's broadcast of Deconstructing Dinner, we will hear again from Jac Smit - the president of the Washington D.C.-based Urban Agriculture Network, who we heard from at the beginning of today's broadcast. We have now taken a look at one business that has turned urban backyards into mini-farms and we have taken a look at how a not-for-profit group is using the city as a giant orchard, but there are of course many other forms of urban agriculture that exist or have been proposed.

 

In June of this year, Jac Smit posted a list of many of these forms of urban agriculture on the Vancouver-based City Farmer website, a resource that I highly recommend you visit not just once, but on an ongoing basis. That website is www.cityfarmer.org, and there are a number of submissions by Jac Smit that can be found from a link on the main page of that site.

 

As I spoke with Jac over the phone, he referred to a few of the many alternative forms of Urban Agriculture that he listed in that article.

 

JAC SMIT: I love flying in, coming into a new city and looking out the window of the plane at one of the forms of urban agriculture. One way of doing that is to start from the center of the 50 story office building and then pretend you're scanning out as you go. The first thing you will see is the green roof, you have production on rooftops, and this is becoming very common in Manhattan and Paris and many other places, Singapore I mentioned earlier. The next thing, if you look carefully what you'll find is vertical agriculture and vertical has two aspects. One is on the outside of the building going up a screen that's attached to the side of a building, we can call it a trellis. The other is the producing inside of the building and a substantial part of that is reusing the waste that buildings generate. Waste heat is extremely useful to greenhouse effect on windows and on the roof, and of course the waste water and organic waste that it generated, think particularly of buildings with food, retailing or restaurants.

 

The next thing, you might notice is on land everywhere in cities you have land that is not being productively used. World Bank studies found in cities around the world that there's between 25 and 40% of the area within the metropolitan area was idle. It's just not being farmed, doesn't have houses on it, doesn't have institutions on it. Idle land is something that you keep an eye out for.

 

One of the things that I see all the time on greenhouses is this new tunnel of plastic, they don't have walls they just curve around. It's just amazing the number of greenhouses, if you look for them they reflect the sun so you see them. I did a recent trip from Niagara to Toronto by train and the majority of the time; well over 50% of the time during that trip you can see a greenhouses out the window. At that time a few years ago a lot of them were in construction which is pretty amazing when you think about the relatively cold climate.

 

JON STEINMAN: In wrapping up my conversation with Jac Smit of the Urban Agriculture Network, he spoke to me about food security, the underlying subject matter of this radio program Deconstructing Dinner. Jac believes that food security begins at a community level and not at a national level, a belief that is currently a far cry from our national and global food system.

 

JAC SMIT: Food security for me begins in the concept of community. Regardless of a city being high density, low density, engaged mostly in sprawl, low income, high income, we as human beings exist in community. There's a famous book Bowling In America, bowling alleys used to be considered the center of community; nowadays it tends to be more the shopping mall, or the food court in the shopping mall. But there are any number of definitions of community. So, food security means that each community has a food system which ensures that every member of that community doesn't suffer either from hunger or malnutrition.

 

The first thing that I say about that is that you have access to food. Now access to food means first and most simply that you can go step out your door and walk a short distance to a field or chicken coup and have food, pick up an egg or pull some carrots out of the ground or whatever. That access needs to be available without going through the money economy. It might require a community barter system or local currency, but direct access is the most secure source. What happens when you have direct access is a barter is immediately there to have a community garden. One person has more tomatoes and the other one has cucumbers. You don't have to speak the same language to know that you're going to know that you're not going to throw that stuff away.

 

Another element of food security is that it's year round. So many, many low income communities suffer from having food available during certain seasons and not available in other seasons. Here again it requires some intervention in some communities for storage, lessons in producing additional crops, availability as I said earlier of the food policy so that you can lengthen the season. There are diverse things that are needed there. We really don't need to go, if we built it at the community level, the peripheral sources will support that. If we try to build it at a national level or a regional level too many communities will be left out.

 

JON STEIMAN: And that was Jac Smit of the Urban Agriculture Network based in Washington D.C. And again you can read a number of articles written by Smit by visiting the Vancouver-based City Farmer website at www.cityfarmer.org. And again this broadcast marked the first of an ongoing series here on Deconstructing Dinner titled Farming in the City, and you can track the progress of this series by staying posted to the program's website.

 

ending theme

 

And that was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded at Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant Dianne Matenko. The theme music for Deconstructing Dinner is courtesy of Nelson-area resident Adham Shaikh.

 

All of those affiliated with this station are volunteers, and financial support for this station is received through membership, donations and sponsorship from local businesses and organisations. Should you have any comments about today's show or want to learn more about topics covered, you can visit the website for Deconstructing Dinner at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner. Until next week.


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