Every year, Farmers on 57th hosts student projects and research. This is a guest post offered by graduate student Daniel Sax. Edited by Karen Ageson.
In July of 2020, I arrived for the first time at Farmers on 57th (Fo57) with one, central question on my mind: how is the Pearson Dogwood redevelopment impacting the farm and the people farming here? Before I set foot in the main field, I was struck by the looming signs of change.
“[…] on the Northwest corner of the site, sits the Cambie Gardens presentation center — a stout, slate-colored building where prospective buyers can explore the Pearson Dogwood project and browse luxury floor plans… Parking spaces …once available to GPC staff and visitors, are now reserved for Onni. These features of the landscape surrounding Fo57 hint at a temporary tenure for the farm at its current site […]”(Field Notes, 07/24/20)
Photo credit: Daniel Sax. Cambie Gardens sales centre built by Onni in the GPC parking lot where Onni markets luxury condos starting at $699,900 for 450 square feet.
Over four months, I had the fortune of volunteering with the Fo57 field crew once or twice a week, for my UBC Master’s research. Through field work, informal conversation and structured interviews I got a glimpse into the work of Fo57, its community and the challenges it faces. In this 3-part blog series, I want to spark dialogue about how the Pearson Dogwood redevelopment contributes to “green gentrification”, explore Fo57’s part in this complex process and encourage Fo57, Onni, Vancouver Coastal Health, City of Vancouver and Parks Board to reflect on the potential negative impacts of their work as they determine the future of the farm. But first, a bit about me and how I found myself at Fo57.
I was born in New York State in the territories of the Mohican people and Haudenosaunee Confederacy but am currently a settler in Vancouver, territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, and Sel̓íl̓witulh Nations. I am a PhD student at UBC studying urban forestry and environmental justice. My path to where I am now has not been straightforward. As an undergraduate at Haverford College I developed an interest in sociology and its capacity to expose social systems that are often obscured or invisible to us in our day-to-day lives. I also worked for the college arboretum, mornings spent tending the beautiful landscape of my temporary home. Upon graduating, I found myself at a crossroads. Sociology had given me a new lens through which to view the world of people but my work at the arboretum had opened my eyes to a new world entirely – the world of plants. I got a job as an arborist intern at the Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia.
At Morris, I trained as a climbing arborist and horticulturist, learning a range of topics from tree health and maintenance to formal garden display and plant propagation. It was a rich but disconnected experience — a fence and entrance fee limited who could experience the gardens. Then, I found urban agriculture. I was blown away by the community building I saw in greenspaces across the city of Philadelphia centred around growing food. Seeking to balance my love for social theory with the power of urban nature to create connections, I began my first term in UBC’s Faculty of Forestry in the Fall of 2019. Early on I came across the concept of green gentrification and my perspective on the value of urban agriculture was turned on its head.
Green gentrification is a process where urban greening can encourage an increase in land values and related commercial and retail investment, disrupts existing connections to place among long-term residents and threatens resident housing security1,2. My question became: how do community gardens and urban farms impact the growth and change of cities? Research shows that urban agriculture invites attention from city planners and developers who then use the image of sustainability and ‘greenness’ to advance development goals3. This is especially true of farms that cater to a primarily privileged audience4,5. What I found though was that little scholarship explores the experience and perspective of the farmers who practice urban agriculture. In other words, a system of green gentrification has been identified but no one had considered the actual people operating within it. I decided to try and fill this gap.
I first heard about Fo57 from folks involved with urban agriculture in and around Vancouver. After learning about the farm’s commitment to community engagement, robust volunteer program and experience with the Pearson Dogwood redevelopment, I connected with Karen, a founding director and the Market Garden Manager. Since the beginnings of Fo57 in 2009, Karen has confronted difficult questions about who Fo57 serves and how to address the privilege barriers that restrict access to urban-grown produce6. Karen was quick to support my research into green gentrification and its implications for urban development. We agreed how research would take place on the farm and soon thereafter I began as a weekly field volunteer. I set out to understand what it was like for farm volunteers, staff and George Pearson residents farming the city to navigate the pressures of development. What did they think about their role in green gentrification?
Photo credit: Daniel Sax. Onni and George Pearson Centre staff now share a parking lot at the northeast corner of the Pearson Dogwood lands at Heather Street and 57th Avenue, Vancouver, BC.
It quickly became clear that the Pearson Dogwood redevelopment, while not necessarily an impact on day-to-day farm operations, was a constant presence and source of uncertainty. Each day, additional stories added to the complexity of the farm’s situation — this came to a head as I learned about Onni’s intentions to install a new 1-acre urban farm at the center of its redevelopment. I recognized then that I would have to dig deeper to fully understand the relationships between Fo57 and developers Onni and Vancouver Coastal Health. My next blog post will outline this journey.
- Barcelona Laboratory for Urban Environemtnal Justice and Sustainability. Our published studies on Green Gentrification. (2021).
- Quastel, N. Political ecologies of gentrification. Urban Geogr. 30, 694–725 (2009).
- McClintock, N. Cultivating (a) Sustainability Capital: Urban Agriculture, Ecogentrification, and the Uneven Valorization of Social Reproduction. Ann. Am. Assoc. Geogr. 108, 579–590 (2018).
- Guthman, J. ‘If They Only Knew’: The unbearable whiteness of alternative food. in Cultivating Food Justice (eds. Alkon, A. H. & Agyeman, J.) (The MIT Press, 2011). doi:10.7551/mitpress/8922.001.0001.
- Alkon, A. H. & McCullen, C. G. Whiteness and farmers markets: Performances, perpetuations… contestations? Antipode 43, 937–959 (2011).
- Reynolds, K. Disparity despite diversity: Social injustice in New York City’s urban agriculture system. Antipode 47, 240–259 (2015).