A vacant lot next to BC Place is getting a long-awaited makeover, with a two-acre urban farm that will provide training and work for people with barriers to employment.
The SOLEfood project, being built on land leased from Concord Pacific with more than $475,000 from the charitable Radcliffe Foundation and a $175,000 loan from Vancity, currently smells of manure, as workers fill 3,000 pallets with fertilizer.
“We have two primary goals,” said Michael Ableman, co-founder of Cultivate Canada, the charity running the project. “One is a very important social goal, which is to provide meaningful employment and training to individuals primarily from the Downtown Eastside… but we also have a goal of providing a fairly significant model of urban agriculture for Vancouver.”
The produce will go to farmers markets, restaurants, wholesalers, and directly to consumers, and the farm is expected to employ 25 people this year.
Another urban farm set up by SOLEfood next to the Astoria on East Hastings two years ago has been employing an average of seven people, and pulled in $60,000 in gross revenue in its first year.
“Our goal is not to have a handout forever,” Ableman explained. “We have done some significant financial modeling and our goal is to be eventually entirely self-sustaining, otherwise we’re not presenting much of a model.”
Work is also underway to develop three more urban gardens on city land: One at Main and Terminal, one near 1st Avenue and Clark, and another near the Olympic Village on West 1st Avenue.
The Radcliffe Foundation, which has also been working closely with the Streetohome initiative to address homelessness, was founded by Vancouver philanthropist and financier Frank Giustra.
Concord Pacific has pledged to put any property tax savings from the project into a foundation for future green projects such as SOLEfood.