Strawberries, tomatoes, peppers and sweet corn could flourish on the sites of two old East Side gas stations and near Cambie Bridge if all goes as planned.
City council approved Feb. 14 three-year leases on the city-owned properties for the Blue Heron Charitable Foundation's SOLEfood Farm.
Vision Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer called the news "a huge success story" on social, economic and environmental fronts.
SOLEfood provides training and jobs to people who have trouble finding work. They grow fruits, vegetables and herbs in underused urban spaces, and the produce is sold at farmers markets. With three new properties, the social enterprise could double the number of jobs it provides to at least 20.
Reimer notes restaurants and foodies are willing to pay "good money" for "hyper local" food.
"So instead of that money going to a distributor and then to a local buyer and then, eventually, to a farmer, it's going directly to the SOLEfood Farm, and that, in turn, allows them to put money back into training people and providing them with an opportunity to feel like they're part of the workforce. And that has a huge social benefit for people who have been homeless or mentally ill or have drug addictions or had them, to feel like they're integrated into a community because they're productive in that community," she said.
The gas station sites, at Main and Terminal, and Vernon Drive near the Grandview Viaduct and Clark, haven't been used for 10 years and are being remediated. The property near the former Olympic Village awaits future development. The 0.2 acres could be leased for parking or storage. The city estimates the lost revenue to be $24,000 per year.
"It's tough economic times, but only more reason to be investing in your most vulnerable, in a viable economic enterprise that's also dealing with environmental outcomes," Reimer said.
SOLEfoods would install raised beds on the sites. The gardens would offer educational tours during the growing season.
Seann Dory, co-director of SOLEfood Farm, was cautiously optimistic about the approval.
"We still have a long process to go through to see if these sites are even going to be useable," he said.
Three other prospective spots for SOLEfood farm plots have withered after initial approvals.
SOLEfood enjoyed its first growing season in 2010 and works one garden at East Hastings and Hawks. It has supplied the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House and the Potluck CafÃ© with produce and supplied cut lettuce for the food bank.
SOLEfood is selling shares for a community supported agriculture program where members pay in advance for a portion of the farm's produce and receive fresh food at a discount. SOLEfood is hoping the shares purchasers will donate money to low-income people's shares.
"If they donate, they might get a little more buying power on their share, but that also is going to purchase shares for people in the neighbourhood," Dory said.
He hopes to make "big announcements" in the next two months.
Reimer said the city hopes to approve development permits for the gardens within three months.
The sites were approved as part of the city's broader food strategy.
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