July 25, 2013
West Hastings Street – in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) – is home to one of these surprise oases at Hastings Urban Farm; a converted car park that now provides employment and food for DTES residents. Hastings Street is a hotspot for social enterprises that combine commerce with caring. Opposite the farm is Save on Meats, a retro style diner (look for the 50s neon pig sign) which serves up tasty burgers and shakes – they also sell sandwich tokens that can be given to a person in need.
Hastings Folk Garden is another green space sandwiched into the urban landscape. Honey from their beehives has created quite a buzz at the trendy Window Community Art Shop, also on Hastings, which sells jars of it alongside jewellery and crafts made by local artists to raise money for a local homelessness charity.
Wander down the street and you’ll find Lost & Found Café – a deceptively airy space with a huge wall of photography and stacks of travel magazines scattered around. Working with the Dirty Wall project, the café sells international charity products and runs events that raise money for local causes. Down in Chinatown the East of Main Café is a non-profit food venture that raises money for Project Limelight, which helps DTES kids with a free performing arts programme.
Head to historic Gastown’s heritage buildings, on Cambie Street, to discover a social enterprise that makes use of Vancouver’s urban gardens. Follow the trailing vine upstairs to Olla Urban Flower Project where the ever-friendly owner Megan Branson oversees her treasure trove of unusual plants housed in containers such as vintage tea cups and boxes made by BC Woodworks (a charity that helps people find employment).
Megan explains the motivation for her social enterprise business: “We started Olla Urban Flower Project both out of a passion for design and for gardening here in Vancouver and out of a desire to make floristry more socially and environmentally aware,” she says. “We source all of our cut flowers and foliages from urban gardens/farms, local farms and from Fair Trade certified farms. The urban farms and gardens support small-scale production of unique flowers and, often, hire local folks with barriers to employment. Due to Vancouver’s lengthy growing season we can harvest from these urban farms and gardens nearly year round.”
Vancouver’s urban gardens crop up in unexpected places. Underneath Burrard Bridge a guerilla gardener planted a rockery garden; over in Kitsilano the Pine Street Community Gardens has turned an old railway track into an urban orchard and up on a residential hillside near Main Street the Means of Production garden grows natural materials for local artists to use. Combining care, community and commerce – the social enterprises and urban farms show that Vancouver’s green heart is big enough to include everybody.
Header photo: Green shoots appear in a converted car park at Hastings Urban Farm © Geraint James
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