Revolutionizing How we Feed Cities

by Peter Ladner, Author

Peter LadnerPeople ask me why, after 40 years in journalism, including 20-something years publishing a weekly business newspaper I co-founded, then 6 years on Vancouver City Council, I wrote a book about urban food systems. One reason is that I’ve always been passionate about growing food in my own garden, but a bigger reason is I’ve become obsessed with the positive benefits and urgent importance of bringing more local, fresh, affordable food into our lives.

The unreliability and unpriced damage of the conventional food system have been well chronicled by terrific writers like Michael Pollan and in shocking films like Food Inc.: our mostly imported food supply is in peril from rising oil prices, shrinking water supplies, corporate concentration, aging farmers, climate change and unpriced damage to the environment. The types of food we eat in developed countries are, literally, killing us, especially people with lower incomes.

foodrevolutionWhat I tried to do in my book was to bring together examples of what individual people, neighbours, organizations, entrepreneurs, cities and regions are doing about this pending crisis. New ways of growing and sourcing local food are exploding all over North America. Farmers’ markets are springing up everywhere, community gardens are taking over empty lots, restaurants are growing food on rooftops, cities are allowing residents to sell produce out of their front yards. New businesses are growing food indoors without soil. Schools are sourcing food from nearby farms and bringing the farmers into the classroom. Social service agencies are discovering that crime reduction and drug treatment start with eating healthy food. Police are starting community gardens to make neighbourhoods safer. Community kitchens are teaching new immigrants how to stretch their food budgets.

As a former business owner and politician, I looked for practical solutions that work both financially and politically. How much food can we realistically expect to produce in our cities? What is the case for local economic development from local food production? Can schools, universities and jails justify the higher costs of local food procurement? How do we protect shrinking farmlands when a farmer’s economic dream is to sell out to a developer? How can low income people afford to buy at farmers’ markets? What can we do about the 50% of food that is wasted? What’s the best way to grow uncontaminated soil for urban farms? How do we get decent grocery stores into food deserts in destitute inner cities?

The answers I discovered were both exciting and inspiring. What I like best about the urban food revolution is that everyone wins: it improves public health, balances diets, reduces health care costs, alleviates poverty, gets people outdoors and exercising, creates local jobs, builds community, excites people, makes cities safer and more beautiful, helps integrate immigrants, reduces our carbon footprint, creates resiliency in the face of peak oil, water shortages and soil erosion, and provides environmental education.

Best of all, getting started at growing your own food is cheap, easy and accessible to almost anyone.

Peter Ladner is a lifelong food gardener and student of urban planning who became especially interested in urban agriculture while serving as a Vancouver City Councillor in 2002-2008. He worked with the Vancouver Food Policy Council in initiating the city’s program to add 2010 food-producing community garden plots by 2010 as an Olympic legacy. From 2009-2011 he was a Fellow at the Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue, researching, teaching and organizing public events around the theme Planning Cities as if Food Matters. He is vice chair of The Natural Step Canada.

Peter has been publisher, president and part owner of the Business in Vancouver Media Group, which he co-founded by establishing the award-winning Business in Vancouver weekly newspaper in 1989. He is a weekly columnist for the newspaper. He has more than 35 years of journalistic experience in print, radio and television and is a frequent speaker on business, community and sustainability issues.

He lives in Vancouver with his wife Erica on a lawn-free city lot dedicated to food production. They have four grown children.

The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities is published by New Society,

@pladner on Twitter