Vertical Food Walls - Who knew?
Food security is a challenge the world over in both developing and developed countries. The challenge is not that we cannot provide food. “We” can provide instant gratification, but this is a short term and band-aid solution. The challenge is being able to provide sustainable food sources. My Arms Wide Open, a registered Canadian charity that supports developing communities in Canada and South Africa, believes that the solution is to transfer skills and to develop sustainable locally based food sources. One of the ways we do this is by working with community members, like Ray-Cam Co-operative Centre in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, to build vertical food walls.
Ray-Cam was started initially as a Social Recreation Centre and Food Co-operative and has developed into a full fledge community run centre that serves the children, youth and families in the Downtown Eastside Strathcona area. The Centre runs a food program for community members, but ensuring ongoing food security is always a challenge. My Arms Wide Open is proposing to build a vertical food wall to help Ray-Cam Centre and the surrounding community meet this challenge.
Why vertical? Space is a precious commodity especially in downtown Vancouver. A vertical garden is well-suited because it takes up very little space. A vertical food wall is essentially a framework of plants placed onto the side of a building or a wall.
The Ray-Cam vertical food wall will bring focus to community, food security and family. It will also provide a learning opportunity for Ray-Cam’s children and youth who will be responsible for developing, maintaining and harvesting the garden in accordance with an established curriculum.
During the spring and summer growing seasons, the garden will generate multiple harvests as well as a limited number of harvests in the autumn and winter seasons. The fresh vegetables harvested will support both Ray-Cam’s ongoing food program as well as their own community food bank. A portion of each harvest during the growing season will be canned or frozen to augment fall and winter food requirements. We also intend to plant several fruit trees around the wall to support the surrounding community’s need for fresh fruit.
The garden will be designed in an arc or “S” shape and will be approximately 40’ long x 6’ high. This design allows younger children to tend to the lower part of the garden and older youth to maintain the higher areas. A 1’ high concrete footing will support the frame and individual ‘cages’ with divided slots. Each slot will house a plant in a cut and modified plastic 2-litre pop bottle.
In addition to food security, our emphasis is on the educational opportunities that the garden and its supporting activities offer for the children and youth of the Vancouver Downtown Eastside. Working in teams, the children and youth in the community will be responsible for developing, planting, maintaining and harvesting the vertical food wall. Youth who have participated in and completed My Arms Wide Open’s “Iziko Labahlali” Program will lead the teams. Collaborating with partners like Rain City Strategies and others, My Arms Wide Open will develop a full maintenance plan and curriculum for the youth to learn and work from in supporting and maintaining their vertical garden. A teacher’s guide will also be developed.
The project will create collaboration and a sense of ownership across the community – ownership by the children who will work in the garden; their families, as a result of their own children’s involvement; and other families in the community who will benefit from the garden’s harvests. The intention is for this project to inspire other children and youth within the community to take similar steps and grow additional vertical food wall systems across the community.
The ultimate goal of each vertical garden is to turn it into a community enterprise, providing fresh fruit and vegetables at low cost to community members. Although this aspect is relatively longer term, a part of the program will include teaching other youth from within the community how to establish their own ‘mini-walls’.
We have also designed a charitable component to this project. My Arms Wide Open and Ray-Cam, intend to ‘sell’ each of the planned 1,920 plant containers designed for the food wall. The gross proceeds from the sale of these plants will be split evenly between Ray-Cam Centre and My Arms Wide Open to support their respective members in establishing other community initiatives and support of the live food walls. For example, My Arms Wide Open intends to build ‘sister walls’ in several of the communities where we work in South Africa.
With help from the Aviva Community Fund, we can fulfill our dream by building a vertical food wall that will have an immediate impact on the children, youth and family members of Ray-Cam Centre and the surrounding community.