Grow Calgary is an urban farm located close to Canada Olympic Park. This year, they are growing 15 different kinds of vegetables, and they donate 100% of these vegetables to the food bank. That’s right; they don’t sell any of their produce.
This article features the farm and an interview with Paul Hughes of Grow Calgary about urban agriculture, land access, and the Maverick spirit of Alberta.
“Grow Calgary is roughly the same size as 400 community gardens. This year, we are targeting to be part of 30-36 thousand food hampers. In our first year (2013), we were part of 2000, last year we were in 12000. For 2015, we’ve committed to growing 15 different kinds of vegetables: tomatoes, parsnips, green onions, carrots, potatoes, kale, chard, cucumber, zucchini, garlic, green beans, peas, radish, spinach, and we’re still deciding on the 15th. We talked to the food bank, who petitioned their clients to see what they want.”
“Fresh veggies and fruit are hard for the food bank to get, because when they do get them, it’s kickdown from [the grocery stores]. We harvest at 9:00 in the morning, and we deliver to the food bank at 11:00. Its all gone by 2:00. It’s the freshest vegetables in the city, coming right from the earth, going to people who can least afford that. We’ve had people from the high-end food industry who would like to access the food we grow, but we don’t sell any of it. It’s all donated, and that’s what we call the compassionate food system. The parameters for that are different than the commercial food system; we’re not generating any income, so we’re not competing with the commercial food system. We’re filling up a void that exists, that presently is not filled. We are using this land, provincial land that was just sitting here empty and using it; public land for public food.”
Paul is passionate about land access and sustainable building; on the farm, they’ve built greenhouses out of donated lumber and old tires, upcycling discarded materials to give them new life and reduce their carbon footprint. “We’re just hoping to provide a forum for people to be innovative, and for sustainability. We’ve got kids building an earth ship, Scotty making this greenhouse out of pallets…We want to push the envelope.”
Q: Do you think this is one of the first places in Canada that’s doing this?
A: Oh yeah; where we are, the scale we’re working on, this is definitely a very very unique project. We’re just sick of talking, and at some point you want to do something. Tired of talking about it, let’s do something about it. This is a manifestation of that desire to contribute.
Q: How did you get into policy and get involved with these food issues?
A: My dad. He was always literally giving the shirt off his back…my dad always looked out for the little guy. He was just that kind of guy and I grew up in that environment, helping people. He planted the seed.
On Alberta’s Maverick spirit:
“This is what urban agriculture looks like right now; we took what we could and we did what we could and I think that’s something that’s innovative and creative, and that’s the spirit of Alberta, that we get it done. Instead of making excuses for not doing it, we come up with ways to get it done. It’s the maverick [spirit].”
“I see a need. Thousands of Calgarians have come out here, we’ve had 1400 people come out here to work, and we’ve toured probably the same amount. We get a whole bunch of people come out here: doctors, lawyers, students, journalists, politicians, high school students, university students, stay at home parents, we get all kinds of people who come out and help us and get involved. There is no way you could point to someone and say, this is what a Grow Calgary volunteer looks like. It’s a whole mix, and that’s beautiful. It’s such a colourful, dynamic group of people that come out here. We’ve had people from all over the world come out; people from Chile, France, Korea, Japan, Germany, Britain; they’ve heard about this and when they’re in Calgary they give us a call.”
On goals for the future:
“We’re Canada’s largest urban farm at the moment, we want to become the world’s largest urban farm. We want to become the world’s largest food access program. We have 11, 000 acres [here in Calgary], and we just want to access some of that. And continued innovation. We want to be an urban agriculture destination. Tens of thousands of Calgarians support us, and we want to take it to the next level, and make this something we can really show off. And lead by example. We could do so much more. It just requires a little tweak in our thinking, a little bit of a different approach. We just want to change the world. It’s been a lot of fun.”
This feature originally appeared in Calgary Is Awesome.