Reflections on Food and Ecology – Summer Student Guest Post

Hello! My name is Angeli and I am one of this year’s summer students at Farmers on 57th. I am in my 4th year of the Bachelor of Applied Science in Sustainable Agriculture program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. I volunteered at Farmers on 57th in 2017 and 2018, and am currently doing my internship there as a farm assistant.

In this blog post, I want to share some reflections on how Farmers on 57th is a great example of agroecology, and how we contribute to a more sustainable food system by reducing our fossil fuel footprint. I hope this is helpful information if you are considering signing up for our Harvest Box program, or a similar program in your community. Next week I will share some thoughts on how a CSA can help you eat better, and how you can fit it into your budget.


I think Farmers on 57th is a great example of how agroecology can be applied in a city. Agroecology is the application of ecological principles to agriculture. These principles include diversity, interactions and integrations, resource use efficiency, waste recycling, and resilience. There’s a lot to say about each of those but I will just focus on diversity.

We incorporate diversity into different levels of our operation. At a basic level, we have crop diversity – we grow in polyculture rather than monoculture. We converted a grass lawn into a space that grows 30-40 different vegetable and herb varieties. We also grow annual and perennial flowers. We have a diverse physical landscape that includes not just veggie and flower beds but also shrubs, trees, and hedges that provide habitat and food for many different creatures.

We grow vegetable crops from different families alongside flowers, trees, and shrubs.

We don’t do this just because we love pollinators (and we do love them, a LOT). Biodiversity is necessary if we want our ecosystems to provide clean air and water, sequester carbon, recycle nutrients, and help us be resilient to changing climate conditions.

Some people might perceive agroecology and small-scale farming as traditional and low-tech, but it is grounded in science and requires a lot of knowledge to succeed. We are always reading and researching different strategies to improve our production system. Education is a big part of what we do, and we love sharing knowledge with and learning from our volunteers and CSA members.

Reducing food’s fossil fuel footprint

Our global food system is heavily dependent on fossil fuels and is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. We take steps to do our part and reduce our fossil fuel use on the farm:

  • We don’t use synthetic fertilizers. Making synthetic nitrogen fertilizer takes a lot of energy. Only a portion of it actually gets taken up by the crop, and the rest leaches into the environment as pollution. At Farmers on 57th, we use compost, cover crops, and organic fertilizer to build soil fertility. Our amazing volunteer Ron just built a new 3-bin compost system so that we can better recycle the waste we generate, and import fewer nutrients from off-farm.
  • We don’t use commercial pesticides. We create habitat for beneficial organisms (pollinators and predators) to help us with our pest management. We also use recycled lumber wrap to suppress weeds.
  • We minimize our use of gasoline. We rent a small gas-powered BCS tractor once or twice a year to reduce the physical load of cultivating our beds. Our weekly harvest box delivery to Faculty Brewing is done by hybrid car (thanks Modo!).
  • We try to reduce our plastic use and reuse what we need. Plastic is abundant on farms in the form of seeding trays, irrigation pipes, tarps, string, high tunnel walls, etc. We work to keep our equipment and supplies in good condition so that we can wash and reuse as much as we can.
  • Our veggies are minimally processed and packaged. Most of our produce is unbagged and we ask that you bring your own reusable bags to take them home. We do use plastic bags for some things like salad mix. We would be delighted if you bring your own salad bag and give us back the plastic bag so we can wash and reuse it each week.
A work in progress photo of our new 3-bin compost system. Thanks Ron!

Be the change

You don’t have to be a farmer to make a positive impact on our food system. If you consider the whole food supply system, the process of growing food actually uses less energy than the other steps (e.g. processing, transport, household food prep). This means that we can all do our part by:

  • Walking, biking, or taking public transit instead of driving to buy our food – whether you’re going to the grocery store, farmers market, or to pick up your CSA share.
  • Eating more whole and unprocessed foods.
  • Eating less meat and dairy.
  • Switching to a more energy efficient fridge and other kitchen appliances. I think BC Hydro has a number of rebates to support this, including one for lower-income households.

Thanks for reading this long blog post, and please comment or email us if you have any questions!

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