Unused Vancouver parking lot now a horn of plenty

Strathcona BIA wants urban farm to grow

An unused parking lot on East Hastings is being transformed into an urban farm and composting and recycling hub by the Strathcona Business Improvement Association.

The business association, Metro Vancouver and the City of Vancouver are officially opening the Strathcona Green Zone Resource Park at 1245 East Hastings, at the northwest corner of Clark Drive, Thursday, Sept. 20.

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Visitors will see long raised beds where zucchini, carrots, beets, Swiss chard, arugula, mini pumpkins and collards have flourished, cedar sheds that store recyclable materials and host low-tech composting units, and new trees.

The hub builds on a Zero Waste Challenge the BIA ran with Metro Vancouver last year. The trial ran for nine weeks with 15 businesses engaged in recycling that focused on organic waste, soft plastics and mixed containers.

"A lot of these businesses wouldn't be able to take on contracts to be able to divert these kinds of materials because they just don't have the volume, so it wouldn't be worthwhile for the business or the recycling company," said Joji Kumagai, executive director of the BIA. "This leverages economies of scale and allowed us to do that."

The association has run a resource exchange where waste can be reclaimed and repurposed but it hasn't had a designated spot to store items. One man donated 1,000 books of fabric samples that crammed the BIA's 1,200 square foot office until artists were able to pick them up a week later. Now such items can be stored at the resource park.

The compost will be reused in the site's gardens.

"The organic material right now_ is transported quite a long distance, so we thought it would be great if we could keep it here," Kumagai said. "It helps to create an education about how waste is actually dealt with."

Mission Possible, a social enterprise and Christian humanitarian agency, is paying workers to collect waste from 40 of the nearly 450 businesses that operate in the area bounded by Gore Avenue, Clark Drive, Railway and Venables streets. The BIA hopes to double the number of businesses involved.

The association expects to charge about $5 per pickup, one to three times a week. The resource park can compost up to 50 tonnes of material a year.

Seven years ago, BIA director and chair Toby Barazzuol encouraged the association to focus on sustainability for the sake of the environment and to strengthen the business community, said Kumagai.

The BIA wants to share what it's learned to make it easier for other communities in Metro Vancouver to start their own resource parks.

"Businesses really don't like to see materials being wasted," Kumagai said, adding "There is a ton of interest in the business community in sustainability because consumers have been demanding that for the last few years."

In addition to volunteer time and its own money, the business association received $10,000 for the Zero Waste Challenge from Metro Vancouver, $30,000 in seed money from the city and $11,000 from the province for the project.

Vancouverites wanting to learn more can attend a luncheon from noon to 2 p.m. at the Vancouver Ukrainian Hall. Louise Shwarz, co-founder of Recycling Alternative, is the keynote speaker. For more information, see strathconabia.com.

crossi@vancourier.com

Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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