Posts Tagged ‘permaculture’

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.


Read Full Post »

Hello beautiful community!

First, a quick note. News 1130 contacted me last night about the imminent destruction of our yard. The story is currently the most popular story on the site! Thank you so much to Graham for putting them in touch with me and to Renee for writing the article.

Also, there has been an incredible outpouring of support for our yard from the general community. So many people have let me know they are writing letters to council in favour of our project. I really couldn’t have imagined so much support and encouragement from Vancouver residents. It’s really helping during this tough time. Thank you and many Farmhouse blessings to each and everyone one of you who has taken the time to write to the City and passed our story around!


Sara, Ander, and I met with Mrs. Carlene Robbins, manager of the Property Use Inspection branch and Property Use Inspector Tom Hamilton this morning. There were many things said, the most important of which is that we have until May 15 to get the yard together. Wouldn’t concede us an inch on planting the boulevard (“It’s City land! Who said you could use it?”).

This is growing just in the space between the sidewalk and the street in July 2009. We were growing borage, kale, and poppies. The dandelions we used for tea.

The City says it has had three neighbours complain over the last two years (two complaints this year, two complaints last year, with one was a repeat complaint. Part of the City’s “evidence” were photos of our yard from last summer. Remember when it was really dry and most yards were dying? We put straw and other materials over the soil in our yard to keep moisture in (permaculture!) so our plants wouldn’t die. Yep, taking photos during the driest part of the year is surely going to include a little ugly. And it’s funny that the city’s photos don’t match the photos I took myself during that time.

The other photos the City presented us with were from March. MARCH. It’s not March anymore! We’ve done a lot of work on the garden in the last week! You can’t use old pictures from the off-season against us.

This weekend, we collect over a page worth of signatures (I’m guessing at least 20) from residents of the block who are all in support of our yard. Why does the word of three complainants outweigh the rest?

When asked if she would speak directly to the five points contained in the legal notice we received, Mrs. Robbins completely refused, stating she “isn’t going to plan [our] yard for us”. Then she said if we built a fence two feet into our yard, we’d be free to do whatever we want within the confines. Um, how is that fair? You think we can afford a fence? She also pointed out the container garden at City Hall.

“Why can’t you make your yard look like that?” she asked. Maybe because we don’t have thousands of dollars for pressure treated lumber, an in-ground irrigation system, and fancy plaques delineating what garden belongs to whom? Part of the reason we grow our own food is because we are POOR!

Mrs. Robbins admitted to us that if we lived on Commercial Drive, our yard wouldn’t be an issue. Hypocrisy, hello? I asked her why she didn’t see the larger issue at stake—a vaguely worded bylaw that is selectively applied to a subjective notion of beauty and order. She asked me why I was continuing to be argumentative.

Why am I argumentative? Because it isn’t fair. We can’t afford to live on Commercial Drive. We can’t afford to build container gardens. In fact, we don’t want container gardens because we think they are ugly. Plants grow better in a natural state. You put different kinds of plants together for support, to improve the soil, to mimic the natural growing system. Most of our supplies are donated. We have to haul a wheelbarrow eight blocks roundtrip to get free woodchips. We had wonderful people donate their time and energy to help us last weekend. This is not a money-making enterprise. This is about food security. This is about food as a right. This is about a hypocritical city that brands itself as some sort of green leader yet won’t support five hippies who want grow their own food.

So much irony is coming out of this process. The City of Vancouver has
Guidelines for Planting City Boulevards
program where residents are ENCOURAGED to use the boulevard for planting!


Planning to Plant

* There must be reasonable pedestrian access between the curb and the sidewalk. If there is no City sidewalk, access must be provided so pedestrians are not forced to walk on the road.
* Plants should be perennials or shrubs that will grow less than one metre (3′ 3″) in height to ensure good sight lines.
* Several of the plants should be evergreen or have winter interest for those months when the rest of the plants are dormant.
* Contaminants from the roadway may affect consumables, therefore vegetable gardening is not encouraged.
* No trees are allowed other than City-planted street trees.
* No structures or ornaments are allowed since they can interfere with public safety and the City’s ability to quickly access underground services.
* Permanent installations such as in-ground irrigation systems are not permitted.
* Plants should be set back at least 30 cm (12″) from a) the sidewalk to avoid overgrowth and b) the curb to allow for car door opening.
* Fire hydrants must be easily visible and accessible from both the street and the sidewalk. A clearance of 1.5m (5’) must be maintained around hydrants for access, visibility and to ensure that plants do not interfere with the operation of the hydrant. Outside of the Fire Department, Waterworks and Sewers staff use the water from hydrants for a number of purposes.


I can totally 100 percent get behind those guidelines. Last weekend’s work project was all about getting the boulevard presentable. Nowhere on that Web page does it say you need City permission to grow anything in the boulevard.

But the extension is a goodness. The legal notice we were served is dated April 15 but we didn’t receive it until April 19. There goes one weekend. May 1 is Saturday. There goes another weekend. So, with the May 15 extension, we get two more weekends to get things together.

Here is a list of e-mail addresses for Vancouver city councillors if you have the desire to lodge your opposition to the city (via Christina).














Also, if anyone wants to contact the Farmhouse about this, please call 604-628-9509 (the house), 604-762-6557 (my cell), or e-mail farmhousepress@gmail.com.

We love you!

Read Full Post »