Digging Up the Boulevards: A Shift in Local Government Food Policy

Instead of Burning Down the House, Digging Up the Boulevards may be the new smash hit of this decade if sustainable food policy advocates get their way. Things are getting dirty in the food policy notebooks of local governments. Really soiled, actually. Food policy folks are taking to the boulevards, the parks, and the traffic circles and looking for spaces in which to grow food. They’ve always done that. It’s just that this time, the spaces belong to the government.

In the center of two beautiful avenues in our city, we have a park. Although I cannot confirm it, I believe that this park turns the two streets into one of the widest boulevards on the planet. You could just about play a baseball game in the center of the road. I’ve jogged down the middle, I’ve tossed a ball to my daughter on the edges, and the rather progressive city government has daylighted and restored a small stream at one end of the boulevard. The place is the picture of an urban park, albeit in the middle of two rather busy streets.

I have long dreamed of planting carrots in this park. Now, carrots are not the most logical crop for Vancouverites to dream about, because we have an abundance of carrot rust fly. However, I have dreams of long rows, clumps, or huddles of orange, white, yellow and purple carrots. I have visions of those people in their suburban houses and the people from the apartment buildings in streets close to the boulevard heading out to this piece of public land to garden. I imagine people meeting their neighbors, starting conversations, sharing food and gardening tips, and eating well off local public land.

Now, this boulevard is an unlikely candidate for agriculture at the moment, but I was amused at the fact that recently, a park in the same neighborhood became the topic of urban agriculture discussions. The park is underused and in an area that sees a lot less traffic than the boulevard. There’s talk of turning it into an urban farm with a paid farmer who would grow food and offer classes as well.

When I began working for our only local food advocacy organization five years ago, we laughed and dreamed about the idea of turning the boulevard into a farm. Now it seems that local government food policy is beginning to turn a corner. Funders are funding food research and food advocacy, and local governments are listening to those who want opportunities to eat and to grow local food. Yes, the listening is token in some places, but it is there, and growing. And I for one raise my trowel in delight.