Against a very urban backdrop in a rough part of town, a thriving green street farm sits on the pavement with unlikely workers tending to its needs.
Since its inception seven years ago, Sole Food Street Farms has turned acres of decrepit urban land into a prosperous street farm. The farm grow fruits and vegetables, which are harvested by some of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside residents
"You walk down Hastings Street in the middle of the afternoon and see somebody on the sidewalk with a needle in their arm or somebody else kind of pirouetting in the middle of the street high on crack and you make judgements. We all do," co-founder of the street farm Michael Ableman told the Canadian Press.
And unfortunately, Ableman is right. Even if you’ve never been to Vancouver, you likely know of a neighbourhood like this.
"These are the folks we work with, but all those people have hearts and souls and the desire to do something meaningful in the world and all we did was set the table by providing that opportunity," Ableman said.
Downtown Eastside is notorious for being rough around the edges, so you wouldn’t immediately know that about 30 of its inhabitants are farm workers that take on many tasks: planting seeds, caring for plants, harvesting fruits and vegetables. The street farm is even home to an orchard with 500 trees with various fruits such as apples, pears, plums, cherries, and even persimmons, figs, and quince.
Ableman explains that the farm looks to help the neighbourhood’s residents by including them in a community, offering them agricultural training and jobs.
These people often have trouble finding employment, despite having skills, so Sole Street Farms puts them to work. The farm maintains a workplace environment that forgives some indiscretions. Instead of firing workers if they fail to show up, for example, they find out how they are doing and help them keep their jobs, according to Ableman.
The street farm produces 25 tons of food annually — on pavement. The produce is given to people in the community and sold to some of the city’s best restaurants.
It’s not just the employees that makes this farm special, it’s the benefits attached to it. Gardening like this gives people a reason to tend to something every day because the community relies on them and the produce itself depends on their care, Ableman explains.
Ableman says that working on the farm is only important engagement of the day for some of the workers, so the project has been meaningful in many ways.
Workers are also showed how to cook, taught basic financial skills and canning.
"We have a breakfast program, teach people how to drive, provide rain gear when necessary, take them to the hospital or pick them up from jail," Ableman told the Canadian Press.
Ableman co-founded this initiative with Seann Dory in 2009. Together they envisioned Sole Food Street Farms and years later, the project is going strong.
"We're having a profound impact on people's lives, that's the important piece, far more than I would ever have imagined, ever have imagined, I can tell you," he said at the 2017 Terroir Symposium for the hospitality industry, according to the Canadian Press.
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