Vancouver has approved a municipal food strategy that includes over 70 actions focused on the city's food system.
City council voted unanimously today (January 30) to adopt the strategy after hearing from more than 15 speakers.
City staff told council this week that the strategy includes a focus on the five priority areas of food production, increasing resident participation in community food programs, improving food access, addressing infrastructure gaps in local food processing and distribution, and expanding food waste diversion. The 71 actions, including initiatives such as developing an urban farming policy and supporting neighbourhood food networks, span from short-term steps to longer-term goals.
Tara McDonald, the executive director of Vancouver Farmers Markets, called the food strategy “a huge step in the right direction”.
“It is a landmark plan that is going to create a very different food system here in Vancouver over the next 10 years,” she told council.
Vision Vancouver councillor Heather Deal said the strategy includes a focus on neighbourhoods that don’t have easy access to food.
“Many of those neighbourhoods have things like seniors homes….so what can we do to make sure that those people have access to food locally,” Deal told the Straight.
Staff noted in a presentation to council on Tuesday that food insecurity exists in neighbourhoods across the city. Steps outlined in the plan to increase food access include establishing community food markets as a permitted use, reviewing the potential for mobile green grocers, and testing pilot programs for access to nutritious food, such as healthy corner stores.
Brent Mansfield, the co-chair of the Vancouver Food Policy Council, said one of the key actions from the strategy he expects to see implemented in the near term is more support for urban farming. The strategy calls for short-term actions including the creation of an urban farming business license category, exploration of opportunities for urban farmers to sell produce directly from their farm, and enabling of alternative retail models such as Community Supported Agriculture distribution sites.
“I think we can look forward to that changing fairly soon so that it’s actively being promoted,” Mansfield said in an interview.
Other short-term actions outlined in the food strategy include: determining the feasibility for a central food hub; supporting neighbourhood food networks through steps such as the creation of office space in community centres; encouraging the installation of community kitchens in new developments, social housing sites or city facilities; implementing guidelines to allow vegetables and other food plants to be grown on residential boulevards and traffic circles; and exploring ways to improve the “security of tenure” for community gardens and orchards on city property.
Rosemarie Larson of the Cottonwood Community Garden told council it was a “strange feeling” to be applauding the strategy’s goals for community gardening. She noted members of the garden have been “fighting, we feel, for our survival” against a potential plan to widen Malkin Avenue if the city opts to remove the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts.
“The feeling of fear and foreboding we have, the sense that someone has set the clock ticking for us, is mitigated to some degree by the fact that the report has set as one of its short-term goals to explore opportunities for improved security of tenure for community gardens and community orchards on city property,” said Larson. “In order for the words and this commitment to the short-term goal to have any real meaning for us, the threat of widening Malkin Avenue needs to be removed.”
Chris Reid of the organization Shifting Growth, which sets up temporary community gardens on vacant lots, told council there is “massive demand” for growing space in Vancouver.
“There’s huge wait lists right now, throughout Vancouver, and they reflect the density…so this is becoming quite a big problem,” he told council. “I do not believe the long-term goals set will supply the current demand right now—so we need more growing space.”
Some speakers also urged council to ensure its support for the strategy is followed up with implementation of the measures set out in the plan.
“That’s where I’d say Vancouver can truly be a leader, not just to have a comprehensive framework, but to truly deliver on this,” said Mansfield. “Where we have seen food strategies fail is where we don’t have those different capacities to be able to implement.”
Deal said staff will report back to council by next year on progress made on the strategy. After that, staff will be required to report back every two years. She noted many of the actions are “well underway”, while others involving policy or zoning changes will come back to council.
The strategy’s long-term goals include increasing the number of urban farms in Vancouver from 17 to 35, expanding community food markets from four to 15, and creating 22 farmers markets, up from the current level of nine, by the year 2020.