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(Text from Ander!)

There is lots of work to be done, and we’d love your help and company!

Since our boulevard was removed without any notice, and all the dirt put in the front yard … well … let’s just say we can’t get into our front door anymore. All that soil must be sorted and placed onto existing garden beds.

Also, all the city hoopla has caused us to fall behind in our planting schedule. Come dig, plant, and play with soil with us! We are also looking for someone who will come and cook for the hungry workers. Vegetables and other ingredients provided (some improvisation required).

When: Wednesday, May 5 from 11 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. … or whenever we are too tired to work any longer.

Where: The Farmhouse, 470 E. 56th Avenue

Please bring if you can:
-empty wine bottles
-cardboard with low amounts of ink
-a vegetable to contribute to lunch

Thanks, friends! See you there!

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Hello World!

This is a message from Ander. It is my first time posting on the Farmhouse Blog, although many of my photos have appeared here since I joined the tight-knit community two years ago.

The past two weeks have been turbulent, to say the least. Started with a call to a mystery meeting at City Hall (scheduled for April 26, it was later canceled); followed by a court order from the City of Vancouver; followed by both positive and negative conversations with city officials; all resulting in an outpouring of political, media and individual attention, and finally leading up to the forced removal of our boulevard, while at the same time loosening of the city’s demands on the design of our yard, accepting it the way it is after only minor changes and tidying.

But you already knew all that. This post is to tell more of the story. Coverage of our struggle appeared in the Globe and Mail. We appreciate the media attention, but there is a lot more to the issue than was mentioned in the article. In fact, most of the key points of the conflict, as we see them, were never mentioned.

 

1. The implications of the untidy premises bylaw.

All properties must be keeping with “the prevailing standard of maintenance in the neighborhood”. We believe this phrase is extremely troublesome for many reasons. For starters, it’s incredibly subjective. In effect, it gives both the city and the citizens an incredible amount of power and say over fellow residents’ yards. Don’t like what your neighbor is doing on their side of the fence? Call the city and cite this bylaw. If the inspector who visits agrees with your position, then you know those residents will be forced to comply with your wishes—with virtually no option to defend their position.

The bylaw also functions to keep our city segregated by economic status. It’s not okay to have one house of lower property value in a higher-class neighborhood. Why? As Mr. Dyck put it, we are converting the neighborhood into a slum. It’s a process we jokingly refer to as: “hippie-fication”. It’s the opposite of gentrification, which the City of Vancouver seems to spend much less effort fighting.

 

2. The incredible weight that one complainant has.

In our case, we demonstrated through a petition that the majority of people on our block, including many who live close by, are indifferent or supportive of our garden. However, 21 signatures were not more powerful than one, two, or three complaints. We were required to have the three complainants retract their complaints in order to be allowed to keep our yard the way it was. As we aren’t permitted to know who they are, we must request that they contact us, and then wait to see if they so choose to. (Note from Miranda: The city contacted all three complainants, all three of whom refused to meet with us to come to an amicable resolution.)

 

3. The original stance of the city

The only acceptable solution for the city would have been a radical (pun intended) redesign of our front yard—converting the whole thing into raised, wood container boxes, or alternatively the construction of a fence or hedge around the entire yard. With these as their only suggestions, the city officials we met with complained that we were not wiling to make compromises, and we felt the same of them.

 

4. The deeply conservative opinions of Mr. Dyck

Mr. Dyck, the individual who owns the property next door (but he does not live there) was the main complainant in the conflict. Firstly, I must say that I hold a deep respect for Mr. Dyck. We have spoken on the phone and, despite having a clear difference of opinion, we maintained a positive and respectful interaction. However, his opinions include the statement “In Canada, we have lawns” and that only acceptable location for a vegetable garden is the backyard.

Although we sympathize with his concerns about property values, we don’t feel the issue is important enough for us to change our entire way of life and cease using our front yard for work, food, and play.

We are also not completely convinced that food gardens bring down the property values of surrounding properties. As gentrification pushes more and more eco-centered people out of East Vancouver into the rest of the city and, as climate change and peak oil concerns lead large volumes of citizens to reconsider their lifestyles, food growing, sustainable neighborhoods, and backyard sharing will all become more and more common and desirable. It’s already happening.

 

5. The Untidy Premises Bylaw stands in clear opposition to food and permaculture gardens

How can you turn your front yard into a food garden if it must fit in with all the other houses on the block? Most houses in Vancouver still feature grass and a few flowers in the front. Yes, it is completely possible to grow edibles in such a way that they appear to be ornamental. But that takes about 200 percent more time, energy, and money, and will likely produce a smaller yield. It’s not practical to ask Vancouver residents to operate their urban farms like flower gardens.

Urban farms will have well-worn paths, harmless/beneficial weeds sprouting from the edge of garden beds, constantly migrating buckets, and wheelbarrows. They will have trellises mounted long before any beautiful bean stalks curl their way around and they will have dead plants still standing proudly by the end of summer. During a drought, an urban farm is not a feast for the eye: it is a truthful reflection of the climate around it.

 

What about permaculture? It’s a word we throw around a lot here on the blog, and it’s a rich, fascinating, and challenging approach to designing systems to benefit humans, plants, and animals.

The idea behind permaculture is designing PERMANENT systems—ones that are truly sustainable forever. Permaculture draws inspiration from the self-sufficient ecosystems found in nature. Every plant and animal has functions that provide the needs for other plants and animals. By considering the role of every element in a system, we can design gardens that provide for all of the needs of every element—humans included—by using the wastes of other elements in the system. One element’s output (for example the fallen leaves of a tree) fulfill another element’s needs (moist, mulched soil). Make sense? Permaculture is a big topic. It’s a set of principals that can be applied to anything from your little vegetable patch to your large corporate organization.

 

But why can’t your garden look more like ours?

Here is where I draw the connections between Mr. Dyke’s criticism of the weeds in our yard, the city’s assertion that our garden is not “tidy”, and the reasons we have chosen to cultivate our land the way we have.

If you have been raised to understand a “garden” to be a collection of straight, square or circle beds with identical plants symmetrically placed, then when you look at a permaculture garden, all you see is unmaintained chaos. But once you have been introduced to the concepts of self-supporting ecosystems—and gardening with rather than against nature—one is able to better understand what is going on in the yard in front of them.

Rounded garden beds that blend into the paths, multiple crops planted together in order to support each other, plants that have been allowed to go to flower in order to collect the seeds, thick layers of leaves covering and protecting the soil, “weeds” that are allowed to stay because they are benefiting the earth while not in use… Just because a purpose isn’t immediately clear doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason. And just because there isn’t a reason doesn’t mean that unidentified plant needs to be pulled up this instant. Why not take a week and observe why that plant has grown in that exact spot? Listen to Mother Nature, work in harmony with her, and in return she will reward you will all the food and materials you will ever need.

This is why one person can describe our garden as “carefully maintained” while another person refers to it as being full of “metre-high weeds”. What does “tidy” or “maintained” really look like? What’s the difference between a tended garden and a wild, unkempt yard? Are you sure you can tell the difference? Are you sure there is a difference?

 

What now?

In the end, everyone in this conflict has met somewhere in the middle. We have been placed under large restrictions that we feel interferes with the farming process, although we will be able to continue growing food. Neighbors will find our yard has improved in appearance, but is still not up to their standards. And the City of Vancouver? From our perspective, we hope they will approach the next front yard vegetable patch with a little more sympathy for the realities of urban farming. We city farmers are serious about our food. Urban agriculture is growing bigger and stronger, and it isn’t going to hide the shadows of our backyards.

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Boulevard on Wednesday night.

Boulevard this morning.

Before.

After.

 

And here’s a video of the chaos, complete with snarky commentary from yours truly.

R.I.P. Boulevard. We hardly knew ye.

 

Although we requested it be put in the side yard, all the dirt from the boulevard was dumped in our front yard.

 

We can't even access our front steps now. Sorry mailman.

 

Only solace? Our lack of dirt problem is solved.

 

But my poor daffodils are ruined.

 

UPDATE FROM ANDER:

In explanation of the location of the dirt, I directed the laborer to place it there when our landlord said he didn’t want to pay for it to be lugged into the side yard (does make financial sense). There isn’t really any other spot in our front yard to dump that much soil, because the whole thing is garden beds.

It’s just too bad that we didn’t get to do the excavation ourselves, because we could’ve removed the dirt on a day when we were prepared to sort it and place it directly where it needs to go in the rest of the garden. We also could’ve transplanted all those borage and poppy sprouts on a day when we were prepared to carefully move them directly into their new homes in other beds. Instead, we dug them out in a rush and right now they are wilting in the green house because Sara and I are working the next few days and can’t replant them right away. Le Sigh.

I looked out the window this morning and someone has laid down sod on all that dirt. Ouch. Pricey. It does look nice though. I am able to appreciate a dark green tidy lawn. In my opinion our six rows of over four varieties of edible flowers would have been more than just nice, but a stunningly gorgeous display in less than a month. Admittedly, that is purely my tastes and opinions. I wish we’d had the chance to prove it to be true to our neighbors, the city, and our landlord.

RIP boulevard garden. I will always remember that summer you gave us so much zucchini we couldn’t give it all away. I hope the remaining worms find their way across the sidewalk to find friendlier soil and deeper root systems. May the grass grow healthy and strong and be free from attack from chafer beetle seeking crows.

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This post brought to you by the colour yellow and the letter kale. Wait, kale's not a letter ...

Our phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from people enthusiastic about the garden and wanting to help. We’ve also had many, many curious people just stopping by (or driving by slowly), including a woman earlier in the week who came all the way out from UBC with her little baby on an adventure. So much love.

To that end, we’ve arranged some times that Ander and Sara will be available to give tours, drop off donations, or just talk permaculture. Tour the garden! See the greenhouse! Meet Garden Buddha! Make an offering at the fairy alter! Play with our decrepit cat!

Farmhouse Open House

Friday, April 30 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sunday, May 2 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Address: 470 E. 56th Avenue (between Fraser and Main)

 


Here are some supplies we’d love for the garden if anyone has them lying around. Please keep in mind that we do not want money or anything bought new; we’re simply hoping these are things you’re looking to rid yourself of anyway!

Farmhouse Wish List

    • cardboard free of inks and tape
    • woodchips
    • old bricks with which to edge beds
    • a decent wheelbarrow
    • someone with a truck willing to donate a couple of hours of time to collect woodchips and/or go on a dump run (we can supply gas money and dump fees)

Hope to see you there!

Love from the Farmhouse Animals

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Wow. After all that, our landlord has sent a crew to rip up the boulevard right now. So awesome.

My home is no longer my home.

UPDATE (11:36 a.m.) This sucks so much because we’ve always had an incredible relationship with our landlord. Always been supportive and kind and patient with our hippie ways. The Farmhouse is so appreciative of our landlord.

The City of Vancouver has been communicating with our landlord on this issue without including us in the discussion and I have no idea what was said between the two parties. It totally feels like the City has completely sabotaged our relationship with our landlord and it’s a punch in the gut to know he’s angry with us.

I can understand our landlord’s position 100 percent but we still have until May 15 to negotiate with our neighbours … and we only had one more to talk to.

We were so close to winning this fight.

Ander called to let me know that there’s nothing left of the boulevard garden anymore. They managed to save some of the plants but they might not recover.

And now I am broken.

UPDATE (12:13 p.m.) Max called to let me know Ander spoke to the landlord. Managed to smooth things over somewhat. Landlord did leave some poppies growing in the boulevard next to the tree but the rest is levelled.

However, the rest of the yard will NOT be touched. That in itself is a massive, massive victory.

Damn, I wish I had photos right now. So glad I took pictures last night.

Also, the Museum of Vancouver mentioned us today in their blog! I’m totally stoked that the issue is out there and other people are just as interested in food security issues as we are. Greater good has come from this. We’ve found new community. We’re raising awareness. And in a few months, we’ll have food.

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So, I open up the Globe and Mail‘s B.C. section today and what do I see? Oh, just a half-page photo of Ander and Sara and an article about the Farmhouse!

 

“It’s super-rewarding to put your hands in the earth,” Ms. St. Vincent said, nibbling a leaf of homegrown arugula during a backyard tour. Ms. St. Vincent and housemate Ander Gates spent hundreds of hours researching, planning and planting about two dozen vegetable, herb and berry plants. The goal: to feed their house of five and maybe others too if their crops are successful.

“It makes me feel like I’m putting something back into the earth, making a contribution – not just consuming,” Ms. St. Vincent said.

I’m glad the Globe managed to get a hold of one of the neighbours who complained, considering the city wouldn’t give us that information. (Honestly, I didn’t realize he even had a name until this article.)

I did laugh at the “metre-high weeds” statement. I don’t think anything in our yard grows a metre high, except for maybe the touch-me-nots in the sideyard.

Complaining about dandelions seems a bit silly to me, too. First of all, everyone gets dandelions in their yard in our neighbourhood. They’re amazingly hardy and prolific plants. To single us out is absurd. Second of all, part of the reason we sheet mulch is to kill weeds. All we’ve been doing all week is sheet mulching. Put down a layer of cardboard, cover with a layer of carbon (sticks and small branches work well, then cover that with fresh dirt. Weeds just suffocate and you’ve got fresh soil in which to plant. Eventually the cardboard breaks down and returns to the earth.

Or something like that. I’m not actually a gardener; I just get to play in the dirt sometimes.

 

Last night I arrived home after work to find all the Farmhouse animals playing in the yard. The yard is looking better and better every day. The front bed to the left of the steps is edged properly with new soil on top. Nearly all the paths have been covered in chips and new plants are coming up! Sara spotted a couple of onions breaking the surface.

We took a million photos last night (which Ander’s gotta send to me!) including some ridiculous Farmhouse family portraits, since I don’t think we’ve ever had a group photo of the roommates before. I’ve got more to share with everyone … stay tuned!

UPDATE: If you get the chance, please check out the beautiful photos Brett Beadle shot for the Globe and Mail of Ander and Sara! His Web site: Brett Beadle Photography

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This is the yard after this weekend. Still a work in progress but the foundation has been laid.

Anyone down for another work party this weekend?

UPDATE FROM MAX: Vancouver Councillor Kerry Jang dropped by because his office has been getting a huge volume of calls about the yarden. He seems very sympathetic and in support. He gave me some business cards to pass on if you guys want to talk to him.

It’s working, it’s working!

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