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On the Bleeding Edge of Farming the City: An Ethnographic Study of Small-scale Commercial Urban Farming in Vancouver

Stolhandske, Sharla, Evans, Terri L.
Journal of agriculture, food systems, and community development 2017 v.7 no.2 pp. 29-49
business enterprises, cities, direct marketing, early development, entrepreneurship, environmental health, food production, foods, growers, job satisfaction, land tenure, models, British Columbia
In this study, we explore the emergence and early development of small-scale commercial urban farming in metropolitan Vancouver, British Columbia. Commercial urban farming represents a grassroots entrepreneurial activity, spearheaded by individuals and groups, who combine the practices of growing and direct marketing fresh food products, in urban spaces for urban consumers. Considered as part of the agricultural renaissance occurring in cities and an example of the incremental shift toward more place-based food systems, commercial urban farming transforms underutilized and unproductive land traditionally zoned for residential, commercial, or institutional use into intensive food-producing spaces. Those pioneering this activity reported many benefits, including high job satisfaction, increased health and wellness, and making positive contributions toward the environmental health of the planet. Despite these advantages, they also faced many challenges in moving this model forward, including a lack of land tenure, low financial return, and the challenge of earning a living solely from farming activities. We employed an ethnographic methodology to assess the practice, opportunities, challenges, and responses associated with this emergent model of urban food production and retailing. In capturing the lived experience of growers over a five-year period, we are also analyzing and understanding how and why the very first innovators trying to move this model forward in metropolitan Vancouver are negotiating and staking claim to new spaces in the city for intensive food production. We are also interested in why these early adopters were choosing to make their lives through pioneering small-scale commercial enterprises and systems, and creating and engaging in new forms of work connected with the local food economy.