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Former NPA councillor wants politicians not to attack urban agriculture

September 15th, 2011 · 33 Comments

Lots of tweets and emails flying around about this column, posted below, in BIV from former NPA councillor and NPA mayoral candidate Peter Ladner. While never naming the NPA directly, he warns that it’s a “mug’s game” to mock and attack efforts at urban agriculture.

Ladner did not write this column in response to the attack ad that the NPA posted this week, ridiculing Vision’s backyard chickens and frontyard wheat fields. It was written before that ad was first aired. But clearly the attacks in previous months had something to do with this column.

He hasn’t split with his party, by any means, though. He was at the party’s annual general meeting last night and maintains the party is open to a diversity of views.

Here’s the column

Urban agriculture is here to stay.

Politicians and candidates be warned: ridiculing urban farming is a no-win strategy. Food security is marching up the priority list in cities around the world, and Vancouver should be leading, not resisting, this movement.

Growing more food in our cities harms no one, and spins off myriad benefits: better diet, lower health care costs, beautification, safer neighbourhoods, safer food, inter-cultural and inter-generational integration, increased food security, exercise, increased property values near community gardens, less hunger, and, yes, commercial enterprises.

The commercial potential is greatest in desperate, shrinking cities like Detroit, but that isn’t stopping cities everywhere from promoting urban farming any way they can. New York just passed legislation that will, like Seattle, exempt rooftop greenhouses from height limits. New York is also making data about whether city-owned property is suitable for urban agriculture publicly available, and it’s mandating city jails and health centres to buy more locally grown food. Urban farming in New York is growing at what one city councilor there described as “an astounding rate”.

Citizens, schools, community centres, seniors’ centres, hospitals and neighbourhood groups, architects, planners and a new breed of commercial urban farmers are jumping into local food growing with a vengeance. Politicians should be making this good work easier, and respecting it in every way possible.

Fighting this tide could land you in the mud. While Victoria has joined a growing list of cities that allow commercial sales of produce grown on city lots, Lantzville, near Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, has attracted international outrage for persecuting urban farmers. Lantzville resident Dirk Becker and his partner Nicole Shaw live on a 2.5-acre residentially-zoned lot and make $20,000 a year at farmers’ markets selling produce grown on their property. While Becker has lovingly restored the property by piling up sawdust and compost to replace the original soil that was mined and sold by the previous owner, his neighbour prefers the manicured estate look of the golf course that abuts both their properties. The neighbour has the ear of the local council, which last fall ordered Becker and Shaw to “remove all piles of soil and manure” from their property and boulevard and “cease all agricultural activities”. The order was based on a bylaw that says, vaguely, that residentially-zoned properties cannot “grow crops”.

Becker’s case has drawn hundreds of his supporters to public meetings and attracted international attention, positioning Lantzville as a gross aberration of a sustainable town, where petty partisan process trumps common sense. Why would a town on an island where 95% of food is imported not do everything possible to encourage local food production?

The mayor counters that he and his council are concerned about manure and woodchip deliveries to the property, encroachment on the neighbour’s property, traffic and water supply contamination—all non-issues from what I can tell. The dispute is, unbelievably, headed for the courts.

I drove down the dead end road to Becker’s semi-rural property last month, and found it to be neatly kept, odourless, and totally alive with squash, beans, chard, raspberries, carrots, potatoes and myriad other foods. To consider it a blight on the neighbourhood would require a massive stretch of the imagination and an unhealthy sprinkling of bad blood between neighbours.

 

Vancouver politicians with legitimate concerns about sloppy civic spending should be wary of the lessons from Lantzville. Attacking urban agriculture these days is a mug’s game.

 

“Most of us in the well-fed world give little thought to where our food comes from or how it is grown,” writes Charles Siebert in the July, 2011 issue of National Geographic. “We steer our shopping carts down supermarket aisles without realizing that the apparent bounty is a shiny stage set held up by increasingly shaky scaffolding.”

 

People are responding by growing more, not less, food in cities everywhere. Successful politicians will be out in front of this parade, not jeering from the sidelines.

 

This column originally appeared in the Sept. 20 issue of Business in Vancouver, www.biv.com

Peter Ladner’s book, The Urban Food Revolution, Changing the Way We Feed Cities, will be published by New Society in October, 2011, www.newsociety.com

 

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