Could We Feed Our City Off the Back 55?

As a UBC’er who lives in Richmond, I drive past the Garden City lands every time I‘m avoiding traffic on No. 3 Road. This 55 Hectare (136 Acre) field sits between the bustling development in Richmond’s city centre and the farming fields to the southeast. It’s a very large undeveloped green space in a city where dozens of condos regularly replace side-by-side bungalows. If you live in Richmond (and according to this report, 13% of you do), you should know that Garden City offers more then just a short-cut.

Garden City

Prime Real Estate
Now when I say prime real estate, you probably think about condos, apartment complexes, and convention centers. The Garden City green space is prime real estate, that’s for sure. But what’s not certain is what this land will look like when Richmond’s building boom settles. Will we see condos and coffee shops? Will it live on as a field in fallow? Or will we watch as community gardens bloom?

What about the ALR?
The Garden City lands are in the ALR – or the Agricultural Land Reserve. Hmmm… my favorite traffic short cut is in the ALR. What the heck does that mean?

If your property is in the ALR, it means that it is subject to the Agricultural Land Commission Act which was established to preserve agricultural land for present and future generations and to encourage the establishment and maintenance of farms as a secure source of food.

Source: ALR website FAQs

Sounds great to me, I’d sure like my bike commute to be alongside my own local food source. As I understand it, because of this protection from the ALR, the owners of the Garden City lands can’t put up apartment towers. But wait a minute, how are we going to make sure that Garden city becomes a secure source of food to help feed Richmond? When I ride by, it looks like an empty field where not much is happening at all.

The Future of Garden City
As it turns out, there IS a lot happening behind the scenes with the Garden City lands in Richmond. The owners, who include the City of Richmond, the Musqueam Indian Band, and the Canada Lands Company, have tried once (unsuccessfully) to get this land out of the ALR. As this has unfolded, stories of building convention centers, high-density developments, farming the land, community consultations and arguments on city counsel have filled the local papers. Frankly, I’ve found the story really hard to follow. (You can do a search for “Garden City” at the Richmond News or Richmond Review if you want a to catch up on local news).

Yesterday, I read about an example of a sustainable way forward that I could get behind – the Sustainable Food Systems Centre proposal from the Richmond Poverty Response Committee. Check out this picture from the first page of the proposal:

Sustainable Garden City

Besides community farms and gardens, the proposal includes public trails, a community gathering place, a heritage orchard with apiary, a farmers’ market with organic produce and free-range eggs, and much more. The plan provides for tourism, urban-agriculture education, social support, and response to poverty, all with partner organizations. It builds on ongoing successes such as Richmond fruit tree sharing, Ian Lai’s Terra Nova Schoolyard Project, and the Richmond sharing farms, which supply the Richmond Food Bank with local produce.

Source: “Rays of hope for Garden City lands” an article by Jim Wright published on the Garden City lands blog (also published in the Richmond Review; this is the article that my family read over dinner table last night).

Richmond as a Garden City
Next time you drive by, have another look at those fields in the Garden City lands. Think of the value of this land not in terms of development $$$ but in terms of green space and farmland. With these lands, Richmond has the chance to truly become a “Garden City”. As for me, I’m going to start paying more attention to what’s happening with the Garden City lands. I hope that the way forward includes a sustainable solution that considers community gardening, local food production, and green space. What about you?

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Joanne often gets really excited when she talks about Science. Luckily, she works in the Advanced Molecular Biology Laboratory, the educational arm of the Michael Smith Labs. She likes all kinds of science but has a special spot in her heart for biology, technology, and well, sports. As a scientist and educator at UBC, she hopes that she never becomes so specialized that she loses her global perspective. (When she gets around to writing an intro post, I'm sure that she'll link to it here).

7 Responses to “Could We Feed Our City Off the Back 55?”

  1. Brenda

    Hi Joanne,
    I live in Richmond too. I would LOVE to see this proposal executed… would make local eating much simpler!
    This might be a silly question… but would nearby traffic and the pollutants from automobile exhaust have negative effects on the land and/or any agricultural activities and/or any possible produce yield?

  2. Jim Wright

    Great post and follow-up question!

    When the Agricultural Land Commission rejected Canada Lands Company’s attempt to get the Garden City lands excluded from the ALR, their report said this: “Contrary to the argument that the streets reduce agricultural suitability, the Commission believes the existing road network serves to enhance agricultural suitability by providing a buffer, or separation, to or from adjacent lands.”

    The Commission’s report and a range of other relevant documents are available via the Garden City Lands blog. Also, you’ll find an excellent set of photos at the Garden City Lands facebook group founded by biology graduate (from UBC, I think) and current teacher-education student Michael Wolfe. Mike has begun coordinating a Garden City Lands coalition, and he has recently offered to lead tours of the lands.

  3. Joanne

    Hi Jim, thanks for weighing in. The resources that you’ve put up on the gardencitylands blog are great.

    Good comment Brenda, I agree we’ve got to find ways to encourage local eating. You’re lucky that you live in Richmond because we’ve got many local farms that you can visit for eggs, honey, beef, vegetables, blueberries, cranberries, etc, etc. My favorites areas for local farms and community gardens in Richmond are south of Steveston Highway, the Terra Nova area, and along 6 Road.

    It’s an interesting question you pose about the traffic and affects on agricultural activities. I wonder what we could learn from other big cities with traffic issues AND successful community gardening programs. As Jim’s quote from the ALR suggests, I imagine that a suitable buffer, even as simple as a bunch of blackberry bushes could be incorporated.

  4. Michael Wolfe

    Hi Joanne,
    I share the emotions you feel when I ride along side the lands too. I’m usually on my way to a city council meeting or to just simply riding along my favorite block in Richmond. I live a half mile to the North and have visited the lands (and adjacent Richmond Nature Park – the remains of the Greater Lulu Island Bog) more then most could dream. Sometimes for research during my UBC Biology degree, othertimes for wildlife photography and to admire our local biodiversity. I have so many plans for the Garden City Lands as community farmland and wetland habitat, all of which must require the ALR designation to remain in place. This issue led to my political involvment in the past Richmond elections, and will be my leading campaign issue during the upcoming federal election. For requests for a tour this month or to be on the GCL contact list email me at:
    Michael Wolfe

  5. Arzeena


    Thank-you for your great article. I think what a log of people in Richmond fail to realize is how important this decision is to exclude the Garden City Lands out of the ALR. It will be precedent setting and will open the door for other communities around the province to do the same. We have to save this land, not just for Richmond, but for everyone.

    Added to this, we will be soon facing the double impact of Peak Oil and Climate Change. Where will people get their food from? California is expected to be a net IMPORTER of food by 2025. We need to save every inch of greenspace!!

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