Food for thought
An Official Community Plan is, by nature, a high-level document. It offers no shortage of forward-thinking ideas, but specific details and implementation strategies are often left to city staff to unroll as needed.
But Heather Johnstone, coordinator of the North Shore Neighbourhood House’s Edible Garden project, says the District of North Vancouver has the opportunity to include specific details in its OCP to ensure the district remains committed to the ever-growing issues of food security and urban agriculture.
Simply put, food security is ensuring residents’ access to locally-produced food; urban agriculture is the growing of those rations.
“I believe how food is mentioned in the OCP is sufficiently vague,” says Johnstone.
“But with rising oil prices and the threat of droughts in areas that we get our food from, thinking about this is critical. There are ideas and ways to strengthen the stance on food issues without increasing costs. These ideas are so much easier to include now rather than later.”
The district’s forthcoming OCP, still in the draft process and open to changes, has two food-related considerations — to encourage local food systems by promoting initiatives such as community gardens and farmers’ markets and to collaborate with Vancouver Coastal Health to increase access to nutritious goods.
And while Johnstone agrees with the importance of establishing community gardens, she recommends the district develop other incentives such as encouraging developers to provide space for urban agriculture on rooftops and landscaped areas. The district could also, she added, ask developers to provide these green areas as an amenity in increasingly dense housing communities.
Lynn Valley has been earmarked as a new town centre in the OCP and will be a candidate for added development in the years to come. Elsewhere, the Lower Lynn area will see an increase in condo-style living in the future. The already-approved Seylynn Village at the foot of the Trans-Canada Highway will have 690 units.
But it isn’t all about leaning on developers to provide such areas, adds Johnstone. The district should be examining its stock of underutilized land for potential sites of urban agriculture. In the City of North Vancouver, for example, a strip of grass between two homes on 24th Street near St. Andrew’s Avenue was converted into a small orchard. The district, she said, could use that initiative as inspiration to do something similar with its properties.
“A really important thing to understand with urban agriculture is not just turning parks into farms. It’s all about developing land that isn’t being used to produce food, provide recreation opportunities and get people out meeting their neighbours,” she said.
“And on the North Shore we have so many land resources not being used to their full potential.”
District staff said they have been receiving “amazing energy and interest” from residents concerned about urban agriculture, but are limited in how much consideration the topic can get after OCP “must-haves” like housing and employment.
Susan Haid, DNV manager of sustainable community development, said the district has signed an agreement with Vancouver Coastal Health to address the issue of healthy communities and provide education about the dangers of obesity. In December, district council also recommended the Lynn Valley and Parkgate communities as future sites for farmers’ markets.
Cristina Rucci, DNV social planner, added the Table Matters discussion group – comprised of staff from DNV, VCH, the Edible Garden Project as well as residents – will continue in 2011. Started two years ago, the group has met with municipal governments, non-profits and local businesses to discuss food security.
Following the adoption of the OCP, expected after the public input period ends in the summer, Haid said staff will begin discussing specific programs and bringing ideas from the OCP “to the ground.”
“The policies in the plan must be broad in nature because OCPs are living documents and adaptable,” she said.
“But this is something that is very much on our radar now.”