The concept of urban farming has been enjoying an upswing in popularity these past several years. We are accustomed to seeing a wide array of models, from small projects on balconies and in backyards to larger scale operations like community gardens and even multi-site productions like that of Sole Food.
Part of the attraction of urban farming is the visual appeal, so what was most striking about our recent visit to Vancouver Food Pedalers Co-op’s operations was the absolute lack of anything growing in the ground. In fact, it is this very notion that makes the Food Pedalers the most successful urban farm in Vancouver.
The microgreen farm started out as a directed studies project at UBC Farm, to find “an economically and socially sustainable model of urban farming that can be easily replicated.” Food Pedalers’ founder Chris Thoreau proved that it was viable to farm microgreens at a high production level with just a few thousand square feet of space.
From sole proprietorship to worker co-op
For four years, Chris ran the business as a sole proprietor. It was in 2013 he decided to incorporate as a worker co-op, resulting in employees having the option to become member-owners of the co-op.
Chris had been long aware of the co-operative business model and felt that it was the right approach for the growth of the Food Pedalers. “It was a move to gain a wider perspective; to build a team,” Chris says. “A [member]-owner tends to have a lot more at stake and is willing to do things beyond what an employee might. A [member]-owner also has more control over business decisions and opportunities for input.”
Later that year, the Food Pedalers received a grant from Vancity for an expansion project: to build a shipping container greenhouse. The project met a number of the credit union’s community investment objectives including local food production, improved environmental footprint, and stronger co-operative economy. With the shipping container greenhouse in operation by 2014, the Food Pedalers expanded their growing season from five months to year-round. The co-op currently supplies to Vancouver Farmers Markets, local restaurants, grocers, and individual households.
A look inside the shipping container greenhouse, currently growing sunflower, radish, pea shoots, and wheatgrass in 105oF temperature!
Living the principles
The great success for the Food Pedalers is that they’ve established a successful model for urban farming in Vancouver. The co-op is financially sustainable and is regarded as a leader in the urban farming space. Through consulting and sharing their expertise both locally and globally, Chris and the Food Pedalers put their co-operative values in action.
The Food Pedalers’ microgreens can be found at your local Main Street, Trout Lake, and Yaletown Farmers Markets through the season. Here is Chris Thoreau, preparing to pedal a batch of wheatgrass to the Wednesday market: