“Untidy premises bylaw” used to target city farmers

Via email:

We are a shared community house called “The Farmhouse” located at 470 East 56th Ave. We would like to share with you the story of how the City of Vancouver is forcing us to remove or drastically alter our permaculture organic food garden in our front and back yards.

In the past two years, our yard has been farmed by Erin Innes, who ran a CSA. For two years she fed five families as well as ours using our average-sized urban plot. Erin has since moved out and the garden is now being run collectively by the members of our home, directed by myself (Ander Gates) and roommate Sara St-Vincent.

On April 15th we received a court order from the Licenses and Inspections branch of the City of Vancouver (Carlene Robbins). Here are the orders we have received and our understanding of them:

1. cease using the City Boulevard and the strip of city land (approx 2′) that is adjacent to the city sidewalk for a “garden”;

We feel this is selective enforcement. There are “unauthorized” boulevard gardens all over the city, including in our neighborhood. Carlene Robbins, our reference person with the city, has told us that the city does not prosecute boulevard gardens unless there are neighbor complaints. However, we have spoken to a large number of residents on our blocks and found that our neighbors are very supportive, and we have a petition to prove this point.

2. Remove all unauthorized plantings from the boulevard;

3. Remove all dried grass and weeds from the front yard;

This order refers to the mulch we are using on all of our garden beds: dried leaves, grass clippings, and some straw. Mulching is an essential part of organic gardening. We are open to compromise but this order seems completely counter to growing food and sustainable farming.

4. Cut all overgrown weeds and grass in the rear yard;

While there is some grass growing in our garden beds along with the vegetables, and there is some grass growing along the edge of our beds and shed (which we are happy to trim), we believe the majority of this order is actually directed towards our intentionally placed plants growing in the backyard at the moment, including arugula, leek, touch-me-nots, swiss chard and herbs.

5. Remove all of the miscellaneous items that are strewn about the rear yard;

This order refers to the rubber tires (which we intend to plant with potatoes), wood pallets which we are collecting to build a new composter, plastic buckets which we use to collect rainwater and to transport supplies around the yard, a pile of cut branches, and tarps (one of which covers a large firewood pile visible from the alley). Although we have already moved most of these items into the shed or out of site-lines, having to keep our tools and supplies out of site is a huge inconvenience to our food growing and feels like it goes far beyond a reasonable request, especially considering how commonplace such items are in Vancouver backyards.

We are circulating a petition around our block and so far have received tons of support from our neighbors. The deadline for the Order is this Saturday, but our Landlord wants us to comply with the order by wednesday or he will bring in someone to do it. That leaves us less than two days to get the city to permit our farming or extend the deadline. Because the timeline is so short and Carlene Robbins seems to unsympathetic to our cause, we are looking for support from the media to pressure the city.

While Vancouver aims to be the greenest city in the world, they are harassing civilians for growing kale too close to the sidewalk, multching in the front yard, and letting their arugula patch share the soil with a few wild plants. We would like to preserve the freedom of all Vancouver residents, nomatter which part of Vancouver they live in, to farm their yard as they see fit. We would also like to challenge the existing definition of “tidy”. As people who spend hours and hours cultivating and loving our land, it’s frustrating to be told our yard is not adequately maintained.

Hopefully this issue peaks your interest. Thanks for your time and support.

Sincerely,
Ander Gates and Sara St-Vincent
The Farmhouse
470 E 56th Ave
604 – 628 – 9509

blog; http://farmhouseblog.wordpress.com/

update:
we have had our grounds visited by 2 city councilors, one being Andrea Reimer, who based on her intake of our premises, has judged it unobtrusive and been in contact with Carlene Robbins (who issued us our order and suggested we strip our lawn, build a fence and directed a few other offensive and aggressive comments our way) … to negotiate and compromise on solutions. Although we cannot predict the outcome of this ordeal we remain hopeful in handling this matter peacefully and positively, without having to conform to (selective) standards and lose our vegetable crop. Your support, suggestions, links, referrals and general outlook are most appreciated and welcomed.
Universal love, The Farmhouse

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