'It’s a new way': Changing how the City of Calgary sees urban farming
Urban farm groups are looking for the city to do more to understand their burgeoning industry
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Imagine a Calgary where a vertical farm marketplace is your grocery store, a laneway food garden is cultivated by your neighbours or an urban farmer can sow their seeds on an abandoned parcel waiting for development.
Well, according to Kye Kocher, president of YYC Growers, a lot of those things are already happening in the city.
But these are ideas the city is planting for council’s future consideration as a big step towards fulfilling the Calgary Eats! food action plan put into motion four years ago.
“We’ve drafted some themes on changes we’d like to suggest,” said Laurie Kimber, city-wide planner with the City of Calgary. “We’re working on those internally on how we’d make those work right now.”
Kimber said the themes are oriented around households, small business and large business.
If approved, these plans would allow, or clarify, several land use questions that may stop creative business people or local green thumbs from getting their hands dirty.
He said there’s no current timeline on these ideas, but noted some of the city’s land use rules would need to be changed to allow some of the provisions to be moved forward.
“Right now, food growing in Calgary can only officially occur in the industrial area as a business,” Kimber said. “We would allow it to get spread out in the city.”
He added this would include aquaponics and aquaculture in the industrial districts.
“It’s a new way at looking at growing food in Calgary,” Kimber said.
Kocher said it’s a good first step, but the city’s already way behind the industry. He suggests working closer with urban farmers, who have been growing and producing local food for more than a decade to get a better sense of where the pinch points are.
“They need to incentivize businesses or homeowners to (support food security),” Kocher said. “They could have come up with more innovative things.”
His group has been steadily growing clientele, and strives to serve 1,000 families this year with locally grown food through their harvest box program.
Ultimately approving changes to bylaws would fall into politician’s hands. And Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra has been standing, waiting with his mind open on ideas like this for some time.
“Contrary to the idea that the city is a major barrier to food production in the inner city, I think the single biggest barrier to food production is just people who know how to do that work and are willing to do that work,” said Carra. “Examining any particular possible regulatory barrier and removing it is an important leadership role for the city to play.”
His family grew up in the city during a time when vacant lots were used as community gardens. Carra said citizens have lost some of those tactile skills in the space of a generation.
Households can do boulevard food gardening to utilize lost spaces. Things like raised beds, hot boxes and hoop tunnels are OK on your own land.
Small businesses can grow food in landscaped areas or vacant parcels whether privately, or city owned. This would especially be geared toward small plot intensity farming and their ability to grow food on multi-residential, or industrial lands as a partnership with a company.
Larger businesses could fall into a newly-created use called “food production” in the inner city commercial areas, not just the traditional industrial area.