Hastings Urban Farm offers food security and connection to land

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At Hastings Urban Farm, King guides me between the garden's rows, pointing out radishes planted in March, straight-leafed kale, swiss chard, lettuce, parsley, carrots, and other delicious-looking greens.

“It's a work-in-progress,” he says, laughing as he points out one plot planted too shallowly. “But when people come by and see it, I think it helps the psychology of this area.

“I'm from a huge farm in Saskatchewan. Our back yard garden for our family was about the size of this. We didn't have to go to the grocery store very often – we grew our own carrots, onions, garlic, potatoes, zucchini and tomatoes, and canned a lot of stuff growing up. In this neighbourhood, some people are suffering, but they're also helping each other.”

The farm joins another large food project downtown, the SoleFood Farm operated by United We Can's SOLE (Save Our Living Environment) Program for the last three years.

Like SoleFood, Hastings Urban Farm isn't an individual-plot community garden, unlike many others dotting the city. It's a community collaboration where people will be able to get involved in growing and sharing food with other residents. It will help not only with food security, but also a connection to the land, King said.

A connection with food and land

“People don't see where their food is grown anymore, so there isn't an association with what the land is,” he said. “This provides a small connection, which is good for people, especially for people who are living and eating in poverty.”

For the PHS employee overseeing the project -- one of several garden plots the agency runs -- the garden offers a vision of hope and community. Most importantly, it will increase food security for the neighbourhood.

“This was a crumbled building for a long time, until we started doing this,” said Kailin See. “People are pleased to see it's turning into what it is. They're really encouraged and excited by it.

“I just can't wait to see it once it's all done, and the First Nations carving circle is in, when the garden's in full bloom, and there's community members eating and working out of here, people playing on the soccer pitch: the community coming together. I can't wait for that. It's going to be really good.”

The ultimate vision for the Concord Pacific property is social housing, a demand long-floated in the community, particularly during the months of the tent city two years ago. The PHS' new sign in front of the site announces the plan is for 166 low-income housing units, 30 family suites, 40 rent-to-own units, an expansion for the neighbouring Potluck Cafe, offices for community organizations, and even dental and medical clinics. But the agency has launched an online petition to ensure the project goes ahead as "100 per cent social housing."

“The long term plan is for it still to be housing,” See said. “That's its hopeful future – slowly but surely.

“For now, we're hopeful we'll get our little market stall built. Once we've got that, we're pretty much ready to open our doors to the community. That's a ways away yet, as are the actual veggies to go in the stall.”

King continues his tour, boasting proudly about the more than 40 kg of radishes already harvested – and the growing season has barely begun. But more importantly, he said, is his community's support.

“Every day we get 30 to 40 people coming to talk to us about where their food comes from,” he said. “A lot of people just want to come help in the garden. We get a connection to the land. Many people are just learning about that connection.”

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