A one-acre parcel of land in downtown Squamish will be turned into a hotbed of locally grown fruits and vegetables after the District of Squamish Council voted unanimously to approve a temporary use permit that will allow the Squamish Climate Action Network (Squamish CAN) to turn an empty lot on Cleveland Avenue into a one-acre urban farm.
"It will be a commercial operation and the social aspect of it is to employ a couple of people who have barriers to employment, so we'll be employing two of those at least," said Ana Santos of Squamish CAN. "Part of the food will go to the Helping Hands Society for their food distribution program, and to other groups and organization that distribute food to those who need it."
The lot in question, sitting at the corner of Main Street and Cleveland, would also sell food to local restaurants and farmers' markets. Any remaining money would be channelled back into the Squamish Climate Action Network (CAN) for their activities in the community. It plans to use the organic farm to teach locals about food and nutrition, as well as spread awareness of issues around food security.
"If you take a little bit of time to look at the global food system, you'll see that it's highly unsustainable on its current path, there are going to be some real problems down the road so it makes more and more sense to do what you can locally," said Squamish CAN member Dave Waldron, an engineer who is volunteering his talents for the project, which will be managed by his wife, Katie Pease. "You'll never be able to provide all your food needs locally, but some you certainly can and fruits and vegetable are at the top of the list so it makes a lot of sense when you produce foods that are perishable, to shorten up the distance and the timeline between the grower and the consumer."
The plan did meet with some resistance from a neighbour who was concerned about noise, dust, animals and the value of his property. However, Councillor Doug Race emphasized that the farm would only be temporary in that location.
"I also have concerns about the location, and I agree that having temporary greenhouses on Main Street is not the most attractive thing, but it's more attractive than what's there now," he said. "This is temporary, it won't last long-term. The area will be developed around it, and it won't be suitable for the long term."
Squamish CAN will start planting this year and hopes it will be granted an extension to stay put after the three-year term is over.
"The idea behind it all, of course, is the people who can't afford to buy local and fresh because...these things are usually really expensive," continued Santos. "Hopefully with this farm the idea is to produce quite a bit, it's going to be a really intensive way of growing things and that will make it cheaper so it would allow us to get this fresh, healthy food to those people that cannot usually afford it but need it desperately."
Santos says the project will involve local farmers, schools and teachers to provide education to residents in the corridor.
With files from Andrew Mitchell