Vancouver’s New Food Strategy

Sole Food Farms, Vancouver BC
On Tuesday, January 29, the Vancouver City Council will consider [UPDATE: PASSED UNANIMOUSLY BY THE COUNCIL] a comprehensive food strategy crafted through collaboration between city staff and the Vancouver Food Policy Council, with substantial input from members of the public.  The strategy document responds to a June 2003 mandate from the Council for the creation of a just and sustainable food system and elaborates on goals and objectives from the 2007 Vancouver Food Charter, the 2011 Greenest City Action Plan, and various laws, regulations, advisory documents, programs and grants that have, over the past decade, established Vancouver as a leader in food policy.
The Vancouver strategy addresses all phases of the food system, from production to disposal.  It emphasizes five areas that are by now common to the urban food plans that have been produced over the last few years:
  • support for urban agriculture and connections to the rest of the food system;
  • increasing public participation in the activities of neighborhood food networks and community based programs;
  • improving access to healthy, local, affordable food;
  • addressing the needs for food processing, storage and distribution infrastructure to increase the production and distribution of local food; and
  • reducing food waste and increasing the beneficial reuse of discarded food
Several aspects of the strategy distinguish it from other city food plans and policy platforms:
The strategy emphasizes the value of promoting commercial urban agriculture through clarification in the city’s zoning of where commercial food production is appropriate, what limits or mitigation strategies are needed, whether and to what extent farm gate sales are appropriate, and through the creation of a new urban farming business license. The strategy also mentions the need for alternative food retail and distribution models, including community food markets, food distribution hubs and pre-approved Community Supported Agriculture
(CSA) distribution sites in public locations to help urban farmers sell their produce.
The strategy calls for the integration of food production into the streetscape including growing vegetables and fruit and nut trees in residential boulevards, traffic circles and other marginal spaces. This includes switching from ornamental to edible landscaping in residential, commercial, institutional and parks landscaping plans, and the planting of food-bearing trees as new trees are planted in parks and on other public land. Cities are just beginning to experiment with urban orchards (e.g., Seattle) and urban farms as stormwater management infrastructure (e.g., NYC), but city engineers still resist vegetation that requires increased management and maintenance.
Throughout the Vancouver Food Strategy there is a strong emphasis on neighborhood-scale solutions.  This is expressed in support for neighborhood-based food networks (“coalitions of citizens, organizations and agencies that work collaboratively in and across Vancouver neighborhoods to address food system issues”) and neighborhood-scale food infrastructure.
City officials are often resistant to policies that extend beyond the municipal boundaries, particularly those addressing rural farming. The Vancouver strategy is notable in its discussion of the regional foodshed. The document recommends that Vancouver should strengthen alliances with other municipalities in the region and advocate for the enhancement of the Agricultural Land Reserve, which protects farmland in the agriculturally productive Fraser Valley region.
The Vancouver strategy recognizes that food system governance includes a wide range of entities, not just conventional government officials. It acknowledges that effective governance of the food system involves individuals in government, in non-governmental organizations, as well as ordinary citizens and people from different sectors, companies and organizations.
Finally, the Vancouver food strategy emphasizes integrating food policies with other municipal priorities, by “putting a food system lens on plans and policies at all levels of government.” The document calls for aligning Vancouver’s food systems goals with other municipal functions, highlighting the potential for food policies to add value to conventional city activities like housing development, land use planning, public health and transportation planning, which often are not perceived as food-related. The strategy recommends a “food system checklist” to help city staff pay attention to food system needs as they review development applications, rezoning applications, or community plans.

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