Given all the community gardens popping up around BC, there definitely seems to be a growing interest in urban farming and what it means to our local agriculture community. One of the urban farms in the Lower Mainland that we’ve gotten to know (thanks Twitter!) is Urban Digs Farm. Urban Digs is made up of approximately 3 acres of farm land in Burnaby, Vancouver, Delta, and Richmond. They farm and sell a large variety of produce, and even some meats. You may have even eaten some of their food at one of several Vancouver restaurants who source from Urban Digs.
We recently had the chance to chat with Julia Smith, owner of Urban Digs, and a huge advocate of the “buy local” movement. We talked about what urban farming really is, why it’s important, and what Urban Digs is up to in our community.
Buy Local Eat Natural: Can you tell us a little bit about urban farming and how Vancouver and the Lower Mainland can benefit from this form of agriculture?
Julia Smith: Defining the term “urban farming” is a matter of some debate but the generally accepted definition describes agricultural practices in urban centres.
Local production requires less energy and burns less fossil fuel. Food spends less time in transit and storage, which decreases the need for cooling systems. In turn, food is fresher which reduces food waste, lessening pressure on landfills and composting facilities as well as the energy demands associated with them.
BLEN: What sort of crops do you produce and where can we buy them?
JS: We grow a wide range of crops year round including heirloom tomatoes, salad greens, peas, beans, brussels sprouts, greens, onions, garlic, carrots beets, herbs, squash, edible flowers, etc. We also do eggs, some specialty meats like pasture-raised geese, duck, lamb and heritage pigs. We are a founding member of City Farms Co-op so in addition to our own products, we have access to 9 other farms so we are able to offer a real diversity of locally grown fruits & vegetables.
Most of our products are distributed to some of the best restaurants in town and through our harvest box subscription program (like a CSA). We also sell at The River District Farmers market from May through October and at the New Westminster farmers market all winter. The Co-op distributes ours and other member farms products at Trout Lake, UBC and Southlands Farmers markets. (Check out urbandigsfarm.com to see a full list of restaurants Urban Digs supplies).
BLEN: Many cities around the world are embracing urban farming, like New York, Bangkok, and Cairo. What inspired you to create Urban Digs? Is it based off another city’s model?
JS: Urban Digs is an entirely consumer-driven farm. Neither my partner nor I remember ever making a decision to become farmers. We started off by converting a large city lot to a small farm for personal use and the enthusiasm from the local community just propelled us forward. Before we knew it we were farming several other properties in the neighbourhood and doing farmers markets.
BLEN: How do you see Urban Digs growing in the future?
JS: We hope to be able to increase our production to enable us to provide greater volumes and more options to our existing restaurant customers and so we can add a few more. We are also planning to expand our harvest box program to include preserved foods and to a year round model. Ultimately, we see ourselves expanding to include a more traditional rural farm where we can focus on our pastured livestock with the urban farm focusing on vegetable production.
BLEN: You are obviously passionate about the buy local movement. What is the number one reason why you are drawn to being so supportive of local foods?
JS: I just want to be prepared for the zombie apocalypse [insert smile]. I can’t control the price of oil, global economic & political instability, wars or super viruses but I can produce food in a way that nurtures myself, my family, my community and the earth. I’m not trying to save the world. I’m just trying to live a more balanced lifestyle and to take responsibility for one really important thing that I do have control over in these uncertain times.
Thanks Julia! For more information on Urban Digs Farm, visit: http://www.urbandigsfarm.com/
Photo credit: foodtalks.ca