|Vancouver will review the policies and regulations governing urban agriculture and food waste management to develop a food strategy. Photograph by: Nick Procaylo, PNG|
The key to making local food the centrepiece of the city’s emerging green economy is integration.
Change at every level from land use and zoning to business licensing and waste management will be required to create a cohesive and sustainable food system. The time of gathering low-hanging fruit — opening community gardens and encouraging farmers markets — is officially in the past.
Vancouver is now preparing a program of regulatory tweaks and adjustments to zoning bylaws for city council to consider this September.
This summer an interdepartmental group of city staff and the city’s food policy council will be assembling a roster of changes that will touch nearly every aspect of the city’s governance. Public consultations will be scheduled as the food strategy takes shape.
“Where the city takes a very direct role is deciding how we allocate space for different activities and that means looking at our zoning bylaws, looking at our permits and regulations and our licences and making sure they are as enabling as possible,” said Coun. Heather Deal, Vancouver council’s liaison to the food policy council.
“One of the things we need to look at is whether we need to change our RS-1 to RS-5 residential single-family home zoning bylaws to allow commercial activity of a certain type,” said Deal.
“Those things are not easy to do.”
The city is already home to a fast-growing local food sector, with an expanding network of farmers markets and a street food scene that is as visible on popular television programs as it is on the sidewalks.
But other ventures such as urban farming and food waste management are either in their infancy or bumping up against regulatory hurdles.
Small-space farmers working on residential land are vulnerable to bylaw complaints that could put them out of business, Deal said. But changes to residential zoning and a business licensing system that recognizes urban farming could provide protection and stability for people working in what is emerging as a new profession.
The city’s food scraps collection program — part of the region-wide effort to divert organics from the solid waste stream — collects only a tiny fraction of the organic waste Vancouver produces because it doesn’t yet include commercial and institutional sources of waste, nor is there a system to collect organics from multi-family dwellings.
“We really need to close the loop on nutrients that come into the city as food and leave as garbage,” said food policy council co-chairman Brent Mansfield.
Mansfield sees waste management as a crucial element of a sustainable and — above all — integrated local food economy.
“The key part of the city’s food strategy is integration,” Mansfield said. “There’s been a lot of movement on food policy across the city, but I think sometimes it ends up being single issue — it’s either about community gardening or about composting or the food economy.”
“What we are trying to do with the food policy is see those things together,” he said.
City staff presented the latest draft of the city’s food strategy at last week’s food policy council meeting. The strategy was revised after a round of consultations with the public and the food policy council during the past winter.
“The excitement in the room was incredible, people were talking over each other,” Deal said.
Working groups at the meeting were given a chance to digest the city’s direction and offer suggestions.
“Nearly every group had their own take on asset mapping, not just community gardens and such, but local food processors, urban farmers and markets, and people with established expertise,” said Deal. “People were defining assets very broadly, which is good because as much as possible we want to avoid reinventing the wheel.”
A more defined food business strategy and a package of potential legal and regulatory changes is expected to come before council in the fall.
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