This summer, urban farming won me over with filet beans. Popular in the markets of France, filet beans are small tender green beans that must be picked and eaten very quickly. At their best, they are flavourful and tender, to the point where I just steam them gently and eat them with no extra seasoning. Along with fresh herbs and berries, they are an agricultural product that lends itself poorly to the industrial food system. Filet beans don’t like to travel.
Which brings me to SOLE food and the amazing work they are doing in Vancouver. As I mainly work on the rural/urban fringe, I have always been sceptical of urban growing. It has been, in my experience, resource intensive, and technically difficult in Canada, given issues of urban soil health and the problem of finding sunny spots with a reasonably long growing season. I’ve questioned optimistic assumptions of how much can be grown in the city, and sometimes wondered whether effort to grow a few tomatoes in back alleys might be better used to preserve small lot agriculture in suburbia. Urban agriculture is certainly beneficial as a demonstration of how food is produced, and at its best it is pretty and popular, but can it deliver the quality and quantity needed to actually count as production?
Mind you, I hadn’t seen SOLE food, which runs a training program for inner city residents, and is now farming some serious territory within the city, using a modular and easy to duplicate process of boxes and drip irrigation. By concentrating on high value, delicate crops such as herbs, greens and filet beans, SOLE food is demonstrating that urban agriculture can work in a dynamic, growing city such as Vancouver. They were nice enough to let me wander around on their farm snapping pictures, and they are demonstrating what one can do with intensive agriculture on small areas of urban land.
I’m still going to be fighting to preserve farmland in our urban fringe, but operations like SOLE food show that urban farming can be more than just a demonstration; it can put high quality, delicate specialty foods into our urban farmers markets, in sufficent quantities to make the economics and energetics work. And I will be spending the winter pining for their filet beans.