Monday, December 01, 2008

Produce a lot on a little bit of land sustainably

Nineteen years ago when I was director of the New Alchemy Institute on Cape Cod, I dreamed of an city- based Institute based on the discoveries of New Alchemy researchers. It was my sense back then that the environmentally sound approaches to food, energy and shelter design would find their most useful applications in poor urban communities.

The New Alchemy Boston satellite farm never became a reality but I still remain convinced that it is a great idea -- one that's needed more than ever. So I was very pleased when I came across the following article on Vancouver's urban farming school. (GW)

Urban farming school takes root

Instruction would be based on intensive farming on small plots

Larry Pynn
Vancouver Sun
November 29, 2008

A school of urban farming -- a North American first -- is finding fertile soil in Richmond.

Richmond's parks, recreation, and cultural services committee has unanimously endorsed the concept of an urban farm school and directed staff to investigate city land for such a project, either at Terra Nova park at the west end of Westminster Highway, or the south end of Gilbert Road.

Instruction would be based on intensive farming on small plots, a heavy dependence on physical labour, ecological sustainability and meeting local market demands, including the food needs of ethnic and immigrant communities.

"It's human-scale agriculture, labour-intensive and production-intensive," said Kent Mullinix, a sustainable agriculture specialist at Kwantlen Polytechnic University's Institute for Sustainable Horticulture.

"Produce a lot on a little bit of land, which is entirely doable."

With the green light from Richmond, "We can now go forward and make this happen," Mullinix said in an interview.

"We're quite serious about this, about the need to advance this kind of agriculture."

Kwantlen and the Richmond food security task force have joined forces to launch the ground-breaking program in 2009 as a way to allow young farmers to get into the industry and to meet the growing demand for locally produced food.

"The potential for this kind of agriculture to develop into a substantial component of the local and regional economy cannot be understated," Mullinix said.

he program would require about two hectares of land to start, and could partner with the Richmond Fruit Tree Sharing Project, which already has a presence at the proposed city sites and is growing food for local food banks.

The school's topics would include soil management, plant science, animal husbandry and farm infrastructure, but would cover all steps in the food chain, including value-added processing, marketing, and sales.

Mullinix said the program would be flexible for students who want part-time and short-term instruction as well as those seeking a full-time four-year baccalaureate program, with an emphasis on teaching in the field rather than the traditional classroom setting.

The goal is to start the program in early 2009 with perhaps a dozen students and build from there.

In later years, students might be allocated a portion of city lands where, short of outright ownership, they could operate their own farm operation under supervision.


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