This past Saturday, the Vancouver Farmers’ Market had their first winter market of the season. It was a bittersweet occasion for me, because until this year the winter market was almost literally a stone’s throw away from where I live. (If I had a better arm, it would have been.) But, the market had long outgrown its winter home at the WISE Hall and this year the city gave permission for the move to the parking lot at Nat Bailey Stadium.
I’ve told you the bitter, but there’s definitely some sweet. The winter market can now happen weekly and is much larger than it was in its old incarnation. Since the scattered summer markets are now closed for the season, there’s also an advantage in having it in a location that’s nearer the centre of the city. It’s reasonably accessible by transit and there are good cycling routes available, so it’s possible to avoid the congestion and competition for parking spots that driving there causes. Once again, the east side has served as an incubator for something that benefits the whole city. And local, organic food is definitely beneficial.
Though it seems like awareness of food miles and the benefits of eating locally has sprung up out of nowhere in the last few years, the Vancouver Farmers’ Market has been running for fifteen years now. The dominant culture can take quite a while to catch on to a good thing.
I first heard someone talk about eating locally in the mid-eighties. He was one of the most interesting professors I ever had. His course was ostensibly about the geography of weather, but he made sure to give us some life lessons along the way. For instance, he talked to us about geographical and weather considerations for house-hunting, which I think of often when looking at the suburbs running up the North Shore Mountains. (Hint: it’s very bad to cut into a natural slope in a rainforest climate zone.) He’s also responsible for politicizing me around water rights, and by extension, all natural resources and genetic materials. It’s always amazed me how much taking that one course helped me to solidify my political and ethical ideas.
Eating locally was one of those ideas. In the class discussion, we focused on the farm stands that dotted the Fraser Valley, where I grew up. The farms behind those stands grew a variety of vegetables, with much less need of pesticides than industrial mono-culture farms. They could also grow more varieties than industrial farms, since transportation-hardiness and shelf life weren’t considerations for local sales. We learned that we were lucky to have so much access to good food. As the years went by and as development skyrocketed in the Valley, I wondered how long this access would last.
Enter the organic and local food movements.
Now, not only do we have a vibrant system of farmers’ markets across our region, but people are also looking for local, organic produce in grocery stores. I think this bodes well for our health and also for the health of our farmlands, which have been under threat of development even when they’re part of the Agricultural Land Reserve .
Farm stands have even been experiencing something of a renaissance. When I’ve visited farm stands on the Sunshine Coast, I’ve felt like they are lovely, nostalgic throwbacks. Especially since some of them leave their produce unattended, with a price list and a strongbox for you to leave payment. With the rise of urban farming, though, the Farmers’ Market is no longer the only game in town. There’s even a small farm and stand in a vacant lot at Victoria and First.
Extremely local eating is becoming more and more organized here. Neighbours are co-ordinating garden plots together; urban farmers are leasing back (and front) yards; the Vancouver Fruit Tree Project harvests surplus and unwanted fruit; and chicken houses, aquaculture systems and apiaries are springing up around the city. I hope our food culture continues along this trajectory, because our future food security will depend upon it.