Frequent flyer invests in city farming

Traveller sought local recipient to offset carbon footprint

Simon Pek couldn’t fly around the world this summer researching how companies are working to become more sustainable without considering his own carbon footprint.

“I’ve seen estimates of between three and six per cent of global emissions come from air travel, depending on the calculation,” he said on the phone Tuesday from Mexico. “But it’s a pretty large number given the fact that so few people are actually travelling right now.”

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Pek, a PhD candidate in the faculty of business at Simon Fraser University, took an alternative route to compensate for carbon emissions from his flights. Instead of investing in a conventional carbon offset program, Pek invested $500 in Inner City Farms, a small business with 20 urban plots in Vancouver yards.

Pek likes that Inner City Farms displaces produce for more than 50 families and eight restaurants that would be transported from afar, grows its food organically, farms by hand and provides city dwellers the opportunity to learn about farming.

“There’s a tangible impact,” Pek said. “Whereas if I donate to a power plant that’s already being built, I don’t really know necessarily if I’m offsetting anything because that was already being constructed or is already running.”

Farm manager Ahmed Amlani felt “shocked” Pek proposed the $500 investment.

“Simon has definitely been the [recipient] of many of my ongoing rants about farming,” Amlani said.

They work in the same office at SFU.

Inner City Farms used Pek’s money to tear up a 750-square-foot backyard in Mount Pleasant, add irrigation, purchase seeds, and kick start an initiative called Real Food for Change that will see Inner City Farms give a share of its harvest to the Oppenheimer Park Community Kitchen, one of the Downtown Eastside Community Kitchens. The Oppenheimer kitchen will use the veggies in its Tuesday soup in the park program.

“Inner City Farms is this crazy experiment,” Amlani said. “We have an ethic of what we think a more holistic, healthy and sustainable food system would look like and we’re trying to live it out… We’re very much of the mind that good food, fresh food that is healthy for you — it tastes good and it’s grown in a way that you’re not wrecking the planet — should not be a privilege.”

Amlani grew concerned about carbon programs that offset emissions with projects abroad a few years ago after he read research papers and watched documentaries, including The Carbon Rush, which focuses a critical lens on carbon trading. He says the film reveals how projects initiated by Western companies in the developing world could be culturally and socially disruptive when initiatives weren’t sensitive to local conditions.

“Why don’t we do it the other way around and localize this carbon offset,” Amlani said.
Pek intends to give Inner City Farms another $500 at the end of the summer. He used online carbon offset calculators to estimate the amount he should invest based on his flying history over the last five years.

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