Welcome to our blog! We are a group in LFS 350 working on a Community-Based Experiential Learning (CBEL) project. We are super excited to begin our journey with our community partner, Gordon Neighbourhood House (GNH) and help them create a crop plan for their urban farms this growing season. In this first blog post, we will introduce the individual members of our team as well as our community partner, explain our goals and objectives, and finally, provide our first impressions of the project upon visiting GNH!
Meet Group 7!
(Intros from left to right)
Major: Food and environment
My first impression upon visiting GNH is you have to be really smart in order to maintain the running of urban farming. It is unlike conventional farming, which are mostly monoculture and therefore is easy to apply management practices. Urban farming, on the other hand, have so many limitations, therefore you have to use different strategies to maintain certain amount of yields while minimizing inputs. I feel urban farming is a place where most of sustainable methods are applied and I am really excited about it because this is the place I can apply what I have learnt in school to real practices. Hence, I believe this is a really precious opportunity for me. In addition, this urban farming belongs to the West End community, therefore it can give me a chance to view crop planting from another perspective which I might never think about before.
Major: Applied Plant and Soil Sciences
I’m super stoked to be working on this community project! I am passionate about sustainable agriculture and soil health, and the Urban Farm Crop Planning project is going to be a great way for me to apply what I have learned in various courses and my time volunteering at the UBC Farm to a real farm setting. I’m also excited to get my hands dirty, working to prepare the GNH’s community garden plots for the upcoming growing season. I am not very familiar with urban farming, so I am excited to learn more about it, and what kind of role it can play in a more sustainable food system moving forward. I LOVE food, so I’m looking forward to working with the other GNH group to coordinate what crops we plan to grow that will work with their vegan meal plans. In my free time, I enjoy cooking, reading, and being outdoors with friends.
Major: Marine Biology and Shark Conservation
My background has not included an extensive course list regarding agriculture and farming, but growing up in Mexico has imprinted on me the important link between food, culture, people, and communities. I am very excited to take part in this community project because I want to learn more about the work it goes into growing food, as well as how we can apply those principles to an urban setting. This will hopefully equip people with the tools to create more urban farm spaces and have access to local sources of nutritious fruit, vegetables, and herbs. Another reason why I am excited for this is because I’ve lived in the West End since moving to Canada 8 years ago, it feels like this will have an effect on my neighbourhood that I will hopefully get to continue to see in the future. In my free time I enjoy swimming (hopefully surrounded by sharks), and cooking with friends and family.
Major: Food Science
Coming from a food science background, I feel that it is important to understand the foundation of how our food appears on our table. To be able to apply the knowledge I have from food science in terms of food quality and food safety, it is critical to understand the source of our food products. The Urban Farm Crop Planning Project interests me because of the farming aspect – understanding the foundation of urban agriculture and food production. It will be a great learning experience in obtaining background knowledge of urban farms, how to strategically plant the vegetables to ensure they grow, the challenges that urban farms face, and how to efficiently maximize each urban farm location in order to deliver quality products to the community.
Major: Food Science
I’ve always been super interested in learning about plants and gardening, however I haven’t had many opportunities to learn or to try my hand at gardening, as my major focuses more on the processing of food rather than its production. Therefore, I’m excited about this community project as gives me a chance to learn more about growing food in an urban setting, and also gives me a chance to give back to the community and learn more about sustainability. I’m also quite excited to coordinate with the members of the Vegan Meal Planning group in order to decide which crops would be best to grow in the summer time that would work both with the environmental conditions and with the recipes they’ll come up with. In my spare time, I love knitting, crocheting, and baking.
Jiatong (Vivien) Nie
Major: Food and nutritional science double major
Farming is something that has interested me a lot since I have taken the online course LFS 250 where we learned the history of agriculture, GMO food and organic farming etc but it is also something that I am not familiar with since my major mainly focuses on food processing, food safety and human nutrition. Therefore, I have always been looking for an opportunity to learn about farming, plants and soil. I am very excited to be engaged in this urban farming project and I am very confident that we as a group can help the farmers establish a crop plan with good utilization of the land and provide delicious food for people living in the community.
Community Partner Introduction
Gordon Neighbourhood House (GNH), located on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Coast Salish Nations, is a place-based community organization that provides and supports a variety of programs and services for the West End community with missions to promote a vibrant and active neighborhood via dynamic, community-based programs and activities. GNH has a long history that can be dated back to 1942. The current location was opened in 1985 and the organization together with its community members have witnessed many important historical moments such as the second World War. The GNH has approximately 400 members each year and has also become a member unit of the Association of Neighborhood Houses of British Columbia, which is a volunteer-driven agency with goals to build healthy and engaged neighborhoods in Vancouver. (Gordon Neighborhood House, n.d.)
GNH “assumes the best intentions of people” and welcomes and respects people of all backgrounds. In order to better engage people in activities of interest, the GNH offers programs that target specific groups of people (e.g. seniors, single parents, youth, children etc.) (Gordon Neighborhood House, n.d.). Among their programs associated with food initiatives (e.g. community lunch, mobile produce market, etc.), instead of using a charity model to provide foods for the people, GNH’s food philosophy aims to enhance the understanding of food culture and strengthen the diversity and dignity of its community members. Thus, apart from receiving affordable food from the GNH, community members are able to learn and share their knowledge of healthy eating and urban farming. This results in increased food literacy and creates connections between community members and with the land they are living on. The GNH has been successful in strengthening the wonderful community in the West End, however challenges still exist, such as how to adjust their programs to reconcile the demographic changes happening in the West End.
As students, we really appreciate that LFS provides these Community-Based Experiential Learning (CBEL) opportunities for us, because they allow us to give back to the community while engaging with academic topics in a more applied manner. This allows us to think critically about what we learn in the classroom, as well as the non-academic community that surrounds us. We hope that our group can provide our best help to this CBEL project, and that we gain some valuable knowledge and experience from it as well.
The individuals in our group come from a variety of academic backgrounds, however after visiting the Gordon Neighbourhood House, speaking with our project coordinator, Joey, and seeing the three community gardens we will be working in, we have all found ways to bring our unique perspectives and experiences to succeed in this project. Our overarching goal for these next few months is to succeed in creating a thoughtful crop plan that addresses the needs and assets of the community. We hope that in doing so, food will become a vehicle that brings the community together. As a group, we have unique and individual assets of our own, such as knowledge from courses, volunteer work and other past experiences, and we hope to bring those to the table, as well. We hope that this project provides an opportunity for us to learn about urban farming and the specific advantages and challenges associated, as well as how urban farming can be used as a tool to increase food literacy and community food security in cities. Additionally, we hope that through the process of crop planning we can become more thoughtful, taking into account various biotic, abiotic and socioeconomic factors that influence and are influenced by what we choose to grow.
Urban farming is limited by various factors that are unique to their setting when comparing to conventional agriculture. For example, the small area creates non-ideal growing conditions, the application of pesticides is not permitted, and tillage is not feasible. Hence, smart planning is required in order to maximize outputs. Cultural management of crops including choosing crops that thrive in shade, crop rotation and companion planting become even more critical in this setting. The main objective of this project is to strategically design crop plans for each of the GNH’s three community gardens to maximize crop yield and quality, while taking into account their unique environments and integrating agroecological concepts such as crop rotation and intercropping to reduce environmental impacts.
Due to the various limitations to urban farming, the system needs to be designed and managed carefully. We will use intercropping, cover cropping/mulching, and crop rotation in order to maintain soil health and water retention in the plots. Furthermore, we will choose crops based on the abiotic environment of plots (shade, temperature, moisture, etc.) Aside from environmental sustainability, the farming system also needs to be designed to fulfill the community’s purposes and ensure socioeconomic and cultural sustainability. Urban farming has the potential to build and strengthen communities. It brings people together and inspires them to be part of the food production system, increasing food literacy. It teaches people how to farm and makes healthy and fresh foods more accessible.
One of the GNH’s three community gardens; shaded on 3 sides by an apartment building, but with herbs and vegetables still flourishing.
During our first visit, we had the chance to see GNH’s three urban farm plots and learn about the specific challenges each space faces. The plots are limited by various factors including unfavourable growing conditions and operational constrictions. Due to the fact that most of the plots are confined within the free space of apartment buildings, some of the plots receive insufficient sunlight, and some farming operations face challenges such as proper water usage and composting. Despite those disadvantages that are typically associated with urban farming, we were very impressed by the dedication made by GNH which has come up with various methods to plant crops wisely and sustainably in order to maximize the production while protecting the land. For example, the use of marigold to prevent aphids, retaining soil moisture and nutrition through cover crop in winter. The crops were maintained by the programmers as well as volunteers from within and outside the West End community.
GNH welcomes anyone and everyone through its doors as long they are respectful. One of the ways they aim to accomplish this is through food, by utilizing their community gardens to support events, such as community lunches, cooking workshops, and a small-scale farmers market. Through these initiatives, GNH is striving to achieve the concept of community food security whose definition is that all community residents are able to obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes self-reliance and social justice (Hamm and Bellows, 2003). Urban farming is an essential and fundamental component of the food initiatives promoted by GNH and it contributes to community food security by providing organic locally-grown vegetables which will be prepared by the GNH kitchen and shared with the community members in a healthy and economically accessible way. Hence, our goal is to support this idea by providing appropriate assistance.
As we enter into the first stage of our project, it is important for us to understand the concept of Asset-Based Community Development. All individuals have strengths that they can bring into their community as well as inherent positive aspects that benefit it (Mathie & Cunningham, 2003). This is absolutely crucial in providing effective and respectful aid. We need to acknowledge the strengths of GNH and the West End, and utilize them to their full potential. From our first impression, it seems that the GNH is an organization dedicated to serving the community through its food initiatives. We relate this concept to Ernesto Sirolli’s TED Talk, in which he discusses the often patronizing and paternalistic nature of Western aid (Sirolli, 2012). We found both of these readings to be very informative in shaping our perspective, and have already begun implementing these ideas into our process. We want to ensure that we are working with the GNH and optimizing its strengths and assets rather than working for it. Our group will emphasize the needs and assets of GNH and the West End rather than providing what we think they need or want. We will do so by engaging in conversations with the head farmer Joey, and doing more listening than speaking. Essentially, we want to understand and remember that the community is the ultimate expert in its strengths and assets, and we will make sure to prioritize its input. An example of this needs-based aid that already occured within GNH is the partnership between the community gardens and the kitchen/farmers markets, in which the gardens provide produce needed specifically for these initiatives.
To conclude, all of us in Group 7 come from a variety of backgrounds, but hope to bring our unique opinions and assets together to create a suitable crop plant for the urban farms at GNH. By doing this, we hope to be a part of the West End community, and by working with its members, strengthen it according to the food philosophy of GNH. In addition, we want to relate what we’ve learned in LFS350 about Asset-Based Community Development to this CBEL project, and emphasize the assets and strengths of the West End rather than believe that we’re the experts.
After our first visit to GNH and the 3 urban farm plots, we were impressed by the amount of growth and potential of each location, but we also recognized some limitations and challenges surrounding urban farming. Our next steps are to look into potential crops that can be grown in these locations, research about crops that grow well together or that can provide an advantage against pests, and come up with a draft crop plan that would also complement the Vegan Meal Planning project group at GNH. In addition, we will do some actual practices to get some dirt on our hands so that our draft crop plan can be achieved in reality.
Gordon Neighborhood House. N.d. Mandate and Vision. Retrieved from https://gordonhouse.org/about-gordon-neighbourhood-house/mandate-vision/
Gordon Neighborhood House. N.d. The history of Gordon Neighborhood House. Retrieved from https://gordonhouse.org/about-gordon-neighbourhood-house/history/
Hamm, M. W., & Bellows, A. C. (2003). Community food security and nutrition educators.Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 35(1), 37-43. 10.1016/S1499-4046(06)60325-4
Mathie, A., & Cunningham, G. (2003). From clients to citizens: Asset-based community development as a strategy for community-driven development. Development in Practice, 13(5), 474-486. 10.1080/0961452032000125857
Sirolli, E. (2012, November 26) Ernesto Sirolli: Want to help someone? Shut up and listen! [Video file]. Retreived from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chXsLtHqfdM