Friday, July 17, 2009

Tickets for tonight's premiere of Food Inc.

Read more! There are tickets available at the door for a reduced price of $7.00 instead of the usual $10.00 for tonight's premier of Food Inc. at the Uptown theatre on 8th Avenue SW at 5th Street SW. Please contact Paul Hughes at earthsofft [at] or via phone or SMS to be put on the list.

A few of us had a chance to see the pre-screening on Wednesday evening at a jam-packed theatre. It is fantastically well-produced and hard-hitting. Needless to say, it's a must see.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

FFWD ::: Room to grow ::: The push is on to grow food in our unused spaces

Read more! From FFWD
Room to Grow
The push is on to grow food in our unused spaces
Published July 9, 2009 by Julie Van Rosendaal in Urban Living
Andy Nichols

If Calgary has an excess of anything, it’s space. Space that needs to be maintained. Each year crews of gardeners, landscapers and snow removers spend thousands of hours and many tax dollars keeping green (and not so green) spaces tidy. Paul Hughes, a well-entrenched local landscaper and the founder and chair of the Calgary Food Policy Council, would like to see that excess city land put to better use; preferably growing food.

“We are anti-grass,” Hughes says of his group, over coffee in a corner booth at Caf√© Beano. “Calgary has more space than any urban area in North America and most of it isn’t being used well.” To be precise, there are almost 8,000 hectares of usable land in Calgary that Hughes envisions being transformed into edible green spaces by anyone who has the will and a shovel. “Wouldn’t it be a waste of ice if we didn’t have hockey or curling?” he asks.

The non-profit CFPC is driving the 2,011 by 2011 initiative, challenging Calgarians and City Hall to establish 2,011 new growing spaces by 2011. But it’s not just the land the group sees potential in; the CFPC is proposing that Calgary’s Plus-15 system incorporate indoor growing. The members view the world's most extensive pedestrian skywalk system (with a total length of 16 km) as the world's largest network of greenhouses.

Urban gardening is in our roots. From 1914 until the mid-’50s, Calgary’s Vacant Lots Garden Club converted empty lots and other spaces into prolific food sources. Members paid $1 per year and chipped in to tend and harvest the bounty of well over 3,000 plots. The last three remaining VLGC plots have been in Bridgeland-Riverside since 1922, where they are still maintained by residents. Last fall, the 825-square-metre lot was designated as a municipal historic resource, ensuring the site remains devoted to growing food.

In 2008, there were only nine public community gardens in Calgary, along with a few private gardens that had community building as the goal. (Between them, 376 plots were available. This year four new gardens have been approved by the city.) According to the Calgary Horticultural Society, 99,672 square feet were being cultivated last year, with over 750 people getting their hands dirty throughout the city. This year Bowness, Cliff Bungalow-Mission, Hillhurst-Sunnyside, Killarney-Glengarry and South Calgary (one at the Community Centre and another at Rundle Academy) have gardens available to residents for a small fee. Cedarbrae, Maple Ridge-Willow Park, Montgomery and Rocky Ridge-Royal Oak (the largest with 40 plots) had new proposals approved by the city in March. This spring, Hillhurst-Sunnyside expanded their garden to include the city’s first community orchard.

There are some gardens open to all Calgary residents: McClure Community of Gardeners and the University of Calgary Campus Community Garden, as well as the Garden Path Society, which co-ordinates Calgary’s largest community garden in Inglewood (103 plots). Last summer Garden Path launched Cornucopia on a half-acre behind Colonel Walker School, where over 1,360 kg of organic produce was grown and harvested by program participants, staff, garden members and volunteers. Anyone interested in gaining hands-on gardening experience can benefit from educational workshops and on-the-spot learning while nurturing fresh produce for a good cause. Last year, 907 kg of fruit and vegetables were donated to local charities and non-profit organizations. This summer, Cornucopia is open to Calgarians twice a week, when they are welcome to pick, pull and purchase organic fruit and vegetables, with proceeds going back into the program.


In May, the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) transformed a vacant lot in the East Village into a temporary community garden and the free plots were snapped up by residents in a matter of days; the project took about two weeks from conception to completion. And downtown on Barclay Parade — Third Street S.W. between Fifth and Sixth Avenues — two concrete flower planters were replanted with 20 varieties of herbs and vegetables, which will be tended by local businesses and the yield donated to the Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank.

The potential is certainly here and the will is catching up, as people try to reconnect with the source of their food and seek out more economical organic produce that racks up the fewest travel miles. Urban gardens have been referred to as the accessory of the summer; everyone has one — the Obamas, the Schwarzeneggers, even the Queen. Gardening is the new black; it could even be the new dot-com. South of the border, micro gardens are popping up, even in high density areas, and if you want to grow your own but lack the motivation or expertise, you can hire a garden trainer (or personal gardener) to help you along.

The trend toward community-supported agriculture (CSA) is inevitable. More than half the world’s population (about 3.3 billion people) live in urban areas, with the ratio even higher in developed countries. CSAs aren’t limited to vacant lots filled with rows of edible plants to share with your neighbours (a selling point for some that makes others cringe). All manner of inner-city gardening falls under the umbrella of urban agriculture — small, inner-city (for-profit) farms, co-ops, market gardens, micro market gardens, community gardens, small individual plots and even container gardens clustered on high-rise patios. Allotment gardens, which are concentrations of parcels cultivated by individual members of an association rather than shared with neighbours, are popular in many European countries and the concept is catching on in Canada. Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation, for example, offers garden plots for community members for only $53.50 per year.


Many look to the Cuban model for inspiration. In Cuba, 70 per cent of the vegetables and herbs that feed a population of over 11 million are organic and grown in urban gardens — referred to as organop√≥nicos or micro huertos — which occupy a total of about 35,000 hectares (86,000 acres) of land. Cuba’s so-called green revolution was triggered two decades ago by the collapse of the Soviet Union, which eliminated the country’s main trading partner and only source of petroleum, chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and abruptly ended the support of Cuba’s food and agriculture sectors by the Soviet Bloc. Cubans’ daily caloric intake dropped by a third, so they had no choice but to figure out how to feed themselves, with negligible water and without the conveniences of modern agriculture.

The catastrophe led to a complete restructuring of the agricultural system that saw the redistribution of 80 per cent of state-owned land to co-ops and independents. In cities like Havana, gardens popped up in vacant lots, back alleys, parks and rooftops; anywhere there was space. Twenty years later, Cubans have a well-established, socially and environmentally sustainable means of feeding themselves, with a higher intake of fruit and vegetables and a significantly reduced reliance on foreign food. Because the overhead is low and produce is sold a few feet from where it’s grown — about as fresh and local as you can get — buying local and organic is the norm.

Similarly spurred by political and socio-economic factors, victory gardens were famously planted in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Germany during the First and Second World Wars in order to reduce pressure on the food supply brought on by the war effort. Establishing food security doesn’t have the same urgency in present-day Calgary, but our priorities and perspectives are changing.

“Community gardens raise land values.” Hughes says. “They add to the vibrancy of community, food justice, food security.” (Food security is becoming a familiar term. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.)

“I can’t see any downsides,” he says, listing the benefits of urban farming until he runs out of fingers: increased revenue, more jobs, less tax money spent on grass maintenance, lower greenhouse emissions as a result of reduced food miles, increased food security, green credibility, social interaction and community building, and healthier Calgarians who have easier access to fresh, lower-cost fruits and vegetables. A city of healthier citizens carries its own list of benefits.

Watching cities like New York (the same size as Calgary, with more than 10 times the population), Los Angeles, London, England and San Francisco make the most of their limited space prompted Hughes to launch the 2011 plan. The concept follows Vancouver’s lead. In 2006, Vancouver City Council issued a challenge to individuals, families, community groups and neighbourhood organizations to work with the Vancouver Food Policy Council — a voluntary citizen body that was recognized in 2003 when Vancouver Council approved the Action Plan for Creating a Just and Sustainable Food System for the city — to create 2,010 new shared garden plots by 2010 as part of its Olympic legacy (in addition to the 950 that already existed in 2006). Since 2006, the total number of plots has grown to over 2,400. London has a similar goal: 2,012 by the 2012 Summer Olympics.


After meeting with the city’s parks department about the logistics of the 2011 campaign, Hughes sent out a frustrated e-mail. “One fact that came up,” he wrote, “[is that] there are some 800 seasonal workers with Calgary Parks. Not one of the 800 hard-working people who go around our city for six months with trucks and machinery produce food. That’s 768,000 hours of work a year and not one towards food and nutrition.”

City Parks maintains 7,500 hectares of land at over 3,400 sites, 975 playgrounds, 410 ball diamonds, 500 soccer and football fields and 120 off-leash dog areas. We have the most extensive urban pathway and bikeway network in North America — 580 km connected by 67 bridges.

Hughes sees urban agriculture as a growth industry, proposing that we could be generating income from unused land rather than paying for its upkeep. He’s not looking to reclaim parks and playgrounds, but the in-between spaces, the chunks of grass that are generally passed by unnoticed. Beyond the obvious benefits of health, community, sustainability, economy and a reduced environmental footprint, what really excites Hughes is the concept of entrepreneurial urban agriculture as a new and lucrative industry, one that is just being realized in larger centers like New York. And if they’re pulling it off there, he argues, the concept has enormous potential in a city known for its urban sprawl.

Reaching across the table to borrow my notepad, he scribbles a rough diagram of a box with a smaller, shaded box in one corner. The diagram is meant to compare our city’s unused space with that of an imaginary retail location. “A store wouldn’t allow so much space to sit unused, not generating revenue,” he explains. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Hughes envisions a collaborative effort among agrarians, the city and local contractors, who can avoid dump fees and reduce landfill waste by dropping off materials for use in gardening projects. In a perfect world, compost would be collected and distributed as well, with pick-up and drop-off stations scattered across the city. The obstacle is accessing city and provincially owned land, even temporarily, until it’s developed or other plans come about. “We just want access to it,” he says. “We’re not asking them to do anything.” If Hughes gets his wish, it would be the largest shovel-ready infrastructure project the city has seen — one that won’t cost millions of tax dollars.

Some argue that nothing grows here; this isn’t Vancouver, after all. But stuff actually does grow here, and something edible could take up that space where the grass and the pavement is. We may not be able to cultivate peaches, but our sunny climate (Calgary is among the sunniest in Canada, with around 2,400 hours of sunshine annually) is perfectly suited to growing tomatoes, greens, asparagus, potatoes, herbs, chard, peas, beans, beets, zucchini, rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries, radishes and squash, to name some.

Besides, it’s not just forward-thinking cities like New York, Vancouver and Seattle that are big into urban agriculture. Even Edmonton is host to 38 successful community gardens, with another two in Stony Plain and St. Albert. An Ipsos-Reid poll on behalf of City Farmer (Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture) found that 40 per cent of Greater Toronto households produce some of their own food. And Montreal has the highest number of communal gardens in Canada, with 97 spaces divided into approximately 8,200 plots. Montrealers put a high priority on urban agriculture; there is often pressure to develop on green space, which prompts individuals and groups to lobby at municipal meetings and protect the land against commercialization.

“Nothing helps ground a city more than agriculture,” says Hughes. “But the vision is not coming from the city, the vision is coming from citizens. There’s a massive disconnect.” We can’t see the garden for the lawn.

07.08.09 ::: Urban agriculture and food sovereignty in Cuba

Read more! Urban agriculture and food sovereignty in Cuba

The following is the text of a talk given by Jorge Soberon, Cuba’s Consul General in Toronto, Canada, to a meeting of food sovereignty sponsored by the Venezuela We Are With You Coalition (CVEC).

["Food sovereignty" is a term coined by members of Via Campesina in 1996 to refer to a policy framework advocated by a number of farmers, peasants, pastoralists, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, women, rural youth and environmental organizations, namely the claimed "right" of peoples to define their own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems, in contrast to having food largely subject to international market forces. See additional information at the end of this article.]

Cuban Market

As a sovereign country, Cuba is working to develop its food industry and reduce dependence on food imports.

Cuba is working to ensure an adequate level of food to more than 11 million inhabitants. In Cuba no one is helpless or dying of hunger. There are special programs to ensure food for the most vulnerable segments of the population.

To achieve this goal, Cuba faces high world market prices and the growing negative effects of climate change and the policy of the United States.

Food imports from the United States continue to be affected by insecurity. They are subject to strict supervision and licensing for export and transportation of agricultural products to our country. Moreover, Cuba has no access to the technologies available in the United States or to credit from that country.

The Cuban government has identified food production as a major task and a matter of utmost national security. More than half of the agricultural land in Cuba is held by non-governmental organizations.

Due to the demise of the Soviet Union and the strengthening of the blockade of the United States during the 90s, Cuba faced an economic crisis that forced us to seek solutions to our national food production.

Thus the urban agriculture in Cuba, a country where 75% of its population lives in urban areas, but an important part comes from the countryside and has farming culture.

Urban agriculture is carried out throughout the country and is planned taking into account the number of inhabitants of each town or city. The organic matter that is used and the biological controls in place makes it possible to preserve the fertility of the soil. The available area is used to produce food in an intensive manner. Science and technology are applied, maintaining a supply of fresh products, all with the goal of obtaining a balanced production of agricultural products.

Urban agriculture is an important source of income, due to the demand of the popular market, the workplaces, and special places that exist to take care of vulnerable populations. The high educational level of the people facilitates the rapid assimilation of new techniques and technologies. Urban agriculture constitutes a major source of urban nutrition, contributes to the elimination of urban rubbish dumps and constitutes an important source of employment. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans have jobs in urban agriculture. In Cuba, urban agriculture is supported by seed houses and agricultural centres of production of organic matter.

Foods obtained through urban agriculture constitute an important amount of the total consumed by the population in cities, in addition to other options like imported food or food guaranteed by the state.

The system of urban agriculture in Cuba produced more than 1.4 million tons of food in 2008, in more than nine thousand hectares located in all municipalities. In 10 years, vegetable production increased six times over.

Three factors have been crucial to their advancement: Training of the workforce. The system of payment to workers by the end results of labour. Systematic evaluation of the results.

Urban agriculture is one of the best alternatives for the restoration of food production after the passage of hurricanes, allowing the recovery of agricultural production in few months.

Among the recent steps taken to further develop agricultural production is the distribution of vacant land for its use, for those that can produce food. At present, Cuba is modernizing its food industry to increase the ability to process and preserve agricultural products.

The development of agriculture in Cuba receives strong support from the state. The actions taken contribute to food security and adequate nutrition. The goal is not only to produce food, but also to make it affordable and accessible to the population. The habit of consuming vegetables has grown and generates jobs and income, product prices are competitive and urban agriculture has improved hygiene and sanitation of the cities by developing agriculture in areas that are abandoned.

In addition, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA: Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela) is a tool for agricultural and rural development of nations of the region and aims to ensure access to fair and stable prices of basic foods through cooperation on food sovereignty and security.

Cuba will continue to work and cooperate with other countries to ensure the solution of dietary and nutritional needs for all its people, protecting and enhancing thereby the living standards of the Cuban people and other peoples and promoting national initiatives to ensure our sovereignty and independence in food production and distribution.

[Thanks for this to Suzanne Weiss of CVEC.]

Via Campesina’s seven principles of food sovereignty include:

1. Food: A Basic Human Right. Everyone must have access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity. Each nation should declare that access to food is a constitutional right and guarantee the development of the primary sector to ensure the concrete realization of this fundamental right.
2. Agrarian Reform. A genuine agrarian reform is necessary which gives landless and farming people – especially women – ownership and control of the land they work and returns territories to indigenous peoples. The right to land must be free of discrimination the basis of gender, religion, race, social class or ideology; the land belongs to those who work it.
3. Protecting Natural Resources. Food Sovereignty entails the sustainable care and use of natural resources, especially land, water, and seeds and livestock breeds. The people who work the land must have the right to practice sustainable management of natural resources and to conserve biodiversity free of restrictive intellectual property rights. This can only be done from a sound economic basis with security of tenure, healthy soils and reduced use of agro-chemicals.
4. Reorganizing Food Trade. Food is first and foremost a source of nutrition and only secondarily an item of trade. National agricultural policies must prioritize production for domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency. Food imports must not displace local production nor depress prices.
5. Ending the Globalization of Hunger. Food Sovereignty is undermined by multilateral institutions and by speculative capital. The growing control of multinational corporations over agricultural policies has been facilitated by the economic policies of multilateral organizations such as the WTO, World Bank and the IMF. Regulation and taxation of speculative capital and a strictly enforced Code of Conduct for TNCs is therefore needed.
6. Social Peace. Everyone has the right to be free from violence. Food must not be used as a weapon. Increasing levels of poverty and marginalization in the countryside, along with the growing oppression of ethnic minorities and indigenous populations, aggravate situations of injustice and hopelessness. The ongoing displacement, forced urbanization, repression and increasing incidence of racism of smallholder farmers cannot be tolerated.
7. Democratic control. Smallholder farmers must have direct input into formulating agricultural policies at all levels. The United Nations and related organizations will have to undergo a process of democratization to enable this to become a reality. Everyone has the right to honest, accurate information and open and democratic decision-making. These rights form the basis of good governance, accountability and equal participation in economic, political and social life, free from all forms of discrimination. Rural women, in particular, must be granted direct and active decisionmaking on food and rural issues.

Food sovereignty is increasingly being promoted as an alternative framework to the narrower concept of food security, which mostly focuses on the technical problem of providing adequate nutrition. For instance, a food security agenda that simply provides surplus grain to hungry people would probably be strongly criticised by food sovereignty advocates as just another form of commodity dumping, facilitating corporate penetration of foreign markets, undermining local food production, and possibly leading to irreversible biotech contamination of indigenous crops with patented varieties. U.S. taxpayer subsidized exports of Bt corn to Mexico since the passage of NAFTA is a case in point.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mad City Chickens & Support local farmers

Read more! Mad City Chickens movie

The CFPC is securing this screening for Calgary.

Support local farmers.

Help your favorite farmers market win some cash this summer.

Civileats and report on Farmers Market contests:

Civil Eats


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Calgary Food Policy Council creates the Calgary Community Garden/Urban Ag Sub Committee

Read more! Calgary Food Policy Council creates the Calgary Community Garden/Urban Ag Sub Committee

All Calgarians are welcome to share policy suggestions for the creation of future/progressive Community Garden/Urban Ag policy.


Devonian Gardens
The city has approved $23,000,000 for 1 garden. Based on the 2009 Community Garden pilot project budget of $10K/garden, the same funds would help create 2300 community gardens, making Calgary the global leader in urban ag. According to the media release, the Devonian Garden expansion will make Calgary the global leader in skylights for shopping.

Have Your Say in Calgary’s Vital Signs 2009 survey...

Present inventory of Community Gardens:
Calgary Downtown Community Garden (Barkley Mall/3rd St between 5th & 6th Ave SW)
Bowness Community Garden
Bridgeland Riverside Community Garden (at Carewest)
Bridgeland Riverside Historic Gardens aka Vacant Lot Garden Society
Cliff Bungalow/Mission Allotment Community Garden
Rocky Ridge/Royal Oak (NW),
Montgomery (NW),
Maple Ridge/Willow Park (SE),
Cedarbrae (SW)
Community Crop: South Calgary
Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Garden
Killarney Glengarry Community Garden
McClure Community of Gardeners (formerly Robert McClure United Church Community Garden)
Patch Paradise
Silver Springs Floral Ornamental Community Garden & Birthplace Forest
Sunalta Wildflower Community Garden
Unitarian Church
University of Calgary Campus Community Garden
The Garden Path in Inglewood
The Community Garden at Fort Calgary