City Farmer also runs a demonstration food garden (and a composting hotline) in the Kitsilano district, near several community gardens established on vacant lots and an unused railroad right-of-way. Established in 1981, the demonstration garden shows city folk how to grow vegetables and fruit organically on small city lots.
City Farmer interests itself not merely in community gardens, but in the whole vast field of urban agriculture worldwide—everything from rats and building codes to recipes and entertainment, from rooftop gardens in Moscow to inner-city mini-farms in Havana. It offers classes and seminars covering many aspects of food, waste and water conservation, and it is downright evangelical about vermiculture and composting, the keys to soil enrichment in small urban spaces.
"There are so many good reasons to do community gardening, and everyone will give you a different one," says City Farmer executive director Mike Levenston. "When we started up in the 1970s, we used to talk about the way local food production saves energy. Then there's the value of the food to people who don't have money. Parents will tell you the gardens are educational places for their children. There are therapeutic values—the gardens relieve stress. People with food allergies use them to grow food they know they can eat. Chefs want the freshest of this and that. Italian and Chinese gardeners grow specific plants for their own cuisine.
"There are hundreds, literally hundreds, of reasons to value community gardens. I've been involved for 22 years, and that's why I'm still working in this field."