October 24, 2016

Culture and Food: A Summer in Vancouver

For the summer of 2015 I found myself living in Vancouver, partly looking for a change in my own life and partly looking for new experiences to build upon what I already learned. What amazed me the most was how everything I discovered as a research assistant shaped the way I saw Vancouver. Each time I turned a corner I saw something related to food security and culture. By the end of my summer three things stuck out to me about Vancouver’s foodscape:
1)    Community and home gardens seemed to be everywhere

            There are community gardens scattered across Vancouver.  According to the City of Vancouver there were over 75 community gardens in Vancouver in 2013 (City of Vancouver, 2013). I was surprised to see that a few of these gardens were in the midst of downtown’s hustle and bustle on Davie Street and another on Hastings. In my neighbourhood, the East Side, I regularly walked by six community gardens on my way to the market or the skytrain station. ‘Unusable land- such as plots beside train tracks, underneath the skytrain tracks, or on little slivers of land at sharp intersections- were used to produce food. The dedication to growing local food was not only shown through community gardens, but also by the immense popularity of home gardens. Home gardens of varying sizes were everywhere, whether it be growing Swiss chard and peppers in planters on their front step, or dedicating every inch of their free lawn space to growing food.

2)    There were resources easily accessible to learn about food production

            Before going to Vancouver I heard about the Burnaby Village Museum. The museum’s main attraction is its 1920s village.  However, the museum also has vegetable gardens, and runs several food-related educational programs and workshops. Their main gardens are a series of raised beds that contain mainstream vegetables such as varieties of tomatoes, zucchini, radishes, mixed in with several ethnic vegetables including bitter melon, winter melon, menthe, shiso, suyo long cucumbers, saag, mustard greens, black gram, garlic chives, tromboncio squash, chayote, long beans, etc. For each of the vegetables grown in the garden there is a plaque describing where and how the vegetable is used.  This garden shows just how successfully ethnic vegetables can be grown in Canada. Their workshops are on a variety of topics such as container gardening (growing plants in small containers at home), low sugar jam making, pickling, harvesting, winter gardening, seasonal eating, and more. These programs encourage local food security through local production, seasonal eating, and preserving foods. They teach people how to grow their own food and provide hands on experiences.
            Another interesting resource I came across was University of British Columbia (UBC’s)  Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research. The Gardens are a living museum of plants from around the world- everything from local rainforests, to a garden dedicated to plants historically used for medicinal purposes. There is also a food garden full of a variety of fruits and vegetables including kiwis, grapes, gooseberries, tomatoes, carrots, eggplant, swiss chard, etc. Again, this food garden is an excellent resource to teach people about food production and the variety of crops that can be grown in Canada.
            Even though these are the only educational resources I visited, I learned that Vancouver has dozens of other resources to learn about local food and agriculture.  For instance, there is an Urban Farming society that holds workshops and provides resources to the public. There is also an organization called Farm Folk City Folk that has a website that provides lists upon lists of farming resources, including contact information/websites for urban farms, gardening and composting resources, community gardens, and garden support. The resources available to the people of Vancouver are astounding and the very fact that they exist shows how the people of Vancouver value local food and food security.

3)    There was a high availability and exchange of ethnic foods

            Vancouver is a city that celebrates diversity and culture, with cultural festivals happening most weekends in the summer. With the vast array of ethnicities and cultural expressions, it is clear why the foodscape of Vancouver is so diverse. There is also an enormous cross-over and exchange between ethnic groups through backyards, restaurants, and grocery stores.  For example, the Burnaby Village Museum highlighted that there is an exchange of seeds, recipes, and gardening tips between neighbours of different origins. There are also ethnic restaurants everywhere in Vancouver- everything from Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Caribbean, Malaysian, Jewish, etc.- that are filled with people from all different backgrounds. Some restaurants embrace this cross-over and exchange by featuring fusion foods, such as Chinese-Indian fusion food, or fusions of various Middle Eastern and South Asian dishes. Even in grocery stores, particularly independently run grocery stores, there is a large selection of relatively well priced ethnic vegetables. However, the availability of ethnic food is a function of the neighbourhood.

Vancouver is a fascinating city full of culture and food. During my adventure in Vancouver I found community and home gardens around every corner, stumbled upon numerous resources for local food production, and witnessed exchanges between cultures. To say I found experiences that built upon everything I have learned with the ECV Ontario project would be an understatement. Now that my summer in Vancouver has long since passed I’m left wondering how much I missed while I was there- What other intersections between cultures and food exist? What are their food sovereignty initiatives? Maybe someday I’ll find myself back in Vancouver trying to find the answers to those questions.

City of Vancouver. (2013, Dec 16). Join a community garden in your neighbourhood. http://vancouver.ca/people-programs/community-gardens.aspx

Morgan Sage, ECVOntario, Guelph, Canada. 
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