A Real Farm in North Vancouver:
The Bounty and Ethos of Loutet Urban Farm
Edible Vancouver & Wine Country: Summer 2016
The groaning rototiller didn’t quite drown the chatter of the enthusiastic volunteers, who were weeding carrots at the front of Loutet Farm. It was a Thursday, which meant that part of Holly’s duties, aside from regular farm work, included organizing efforts from a group of volunteers. They weeded, while she prepared beds for planting fall garlic.
Holly Rooke realized her desire to grow food and build community while she worked on small-scale agriculture projects in Mexico. “You just see people when they grow their own food—how empowering it is—and I realized I definitely want to facilitate that. It’s very, very rewarding to me. It makes so much sense and it’s so fundamental.” After working at a variety of projects, Holly returned to Canada looking to work in a similar capacity. She found a role as farmer at Loutet Farm, on provincial parkland in North Vancouver.
She is among a few hundred impassioned full-time farmers working plots of land tucked here and there throughout Metro Vancouver. Their common ethos is of enlivening a connection to the food system with which we seem to have lost touch. Though not a new idea in essence, the current iteration of urban farming is increasingly gaining notice. As the local-food movement grows, these young, ideologically motivated people are planting crops in oases amid our urban jungle. They see urban agriculture as a way to develop the relationship between city dwellers and food.
The concept of a revenue-neutral, community farm on parkland emerged from Greenskins Lab, a research group at the UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, and was subsequently transplanted to Loutet Farm. In 2009, the lab approached the City of North Vancouver with its vision, and what followed was a period of fundraising, community consultation, and volunteer recruitment. Loutet Farm is operated by the Edible Garden Project, which is a program of the North Shore Neighbourhood House. Construction of the farm began in 2011; plants have sprouted and connections with the surrounding community have flourished since
On Saturday mornings and Wednesday evenings, nearby residents line up to get kale, garlic, cabbages, carrots, radishes, and other fresh goodies. The farm gate always sells out during the busy summer months.
Additionally, Loutet has germinated a schoolyard project in conjunction with the North Vancouver School District. The Sutherland Schoolyard Market Garden commenced in 2014 with six raised beds and an education coordinator who helps teachers incorporate the garden into lesson plans, and facilitates student involvement. “Everybody needs to eat,” Holly says. “If you can make that accessible to more people, then they can start taking care of themselves and taking care of the next steps in their lives, education, and so on.”
Loutet Farm’s stated objective is to operate an economically viable urban farm within a residential area, offer green-collar jobs for residents of the North Shore by way of workshops, and to offer both adults and children learning opportunities focused on sustainable food production. Since its inception, the farm has grown each year, producing 9,000 pounds of food and generating $42,000 in revenue in 2015. The money, although important for maintaining an economically viable project, is beside the point.
At its root, Loutet is exposing people to how food is grown. This includes direct interactions with consumers, volunteers, and workshop attendees. Passersby walking their dogs or riding bikes on the trail alongside the farm often stop to ask questions, or just observe the farm in operation.
“When I found this job, I felt it was made for me,” says Holly. It’s literally ten minutes from my house, and it’s a real farm. The position is a farmer—that’s my main job—and I’m also super involved in the community. There’s kids around, there’s groups around, but my main thing is making this farm work as a business, and it’s pretty great.” Loutet Farm is at East 14th Street and Rufus, North Vancouver.