In 2009, frustrations with apartment living led Vancouverite Camil Dumont to get creative. Camil grew up in Ontario farmland, surrounded by lots of open space and many family members involved in agriculture. When he moved to BC, he missed that aspect of life, and found that many of his friends did too. So they asked around, found a few neighbours willing to loan them their yards, and started planting gardens. The idea began as a way to work around the restrictions of urban life, but soon their gardens were producing more food than the friends could consume themselves, and Cam saw potential for growth. Inner City Farms grew out of the simple desire to grow good food close to home, and that's what they have managed to do since harvesting their first crops in the spring of 2010. With a full time staff roster of one, ICF is made possible by volunteers - some casual, and some involved in a season-long internship that gives them experience with crop planning, planting, pest management and the coordination required to farm multiple, disconnected urban sites.
ICF currently operates 18 sites within Vancouver city limits. At one point Cam wondered if they would be able to find enough people willing to share their land – they don't worry about that anymore. Each season they have more land offered up than they are able to manage, so it becomes a process of choosing the best sites to expand into based on location and growing potential. Landowners – homeowners in this case – are incentivized to hand over management of their yards by the reward of a portion of the harvest. In this agreement, they don't get to choose what goes onto their land – they may end up looking out the window at a third of an acre of winter squash, or a field full of tomatoes, but the ICF team does keep an eye on the aesthetics.
The more land they acquire, the more things become possible. In our climate garlic is planted in the fall and harvested in mid-summer – occupying the bed for around 8 months. It's not the most efficient use of space if you're trying to grow as much food as possible in your own yard, but once you have a whole yard to devote to garlic, the low-maintenance high-popularity crop can pay off big time. Then there are the things that require lots of attention – salad greens and quick-growing root veg like radishes that can overgrow or bolt in hot weather. ICF plants these in plots close to the heart of their operations so that they can visit frequently.
For Matchstick, partnering with ICF means a steady stream of exceptionally fresh produce from early summer through late fall, and the excitement of managing the harvest in our kitchens. A glut of kale may lead to simmered greens and poached egg breakfast feature. A surprise delivery of red currants ends up topping puff pastry tarts and being cooked into tart jam. And zucchini season must be obeyed – that means zucchini muffins, savoury zucchini tarts, zucchini and potato hash, and plenty of zucchini packed away in the freezer for use during the winter months. Every year they add something new to the roster - last season they grew trial crops of eggplant, okra and cantaloupe and hope those can be included in this year's shares.
Production is low during Vancouver's rainy winter, but Cam keeps busy with business coordination (ICF is currently seeking non-profit status), crop planning, and occasional site maintenance, plus planning for expansion and future projects. This year, because there is always something new to try, they look forward to adding some cloches and hoop houses to the mix. We just can't wait for the flow of veggies to start up.