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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Hubbub about a Food Hub

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One possible concept for the New City Market. Designed by citylab.

[Editor’s Note: A warm thanks to Jeff Nield, citylab and the fine folks at Edible  Vancouver Magazine who gave us permission to cross-post this great piece, originally published in the most recent edition of Edible Vancouver that you can access online here.]

VANCOUVER’S FIRST MARKET HALL WAS A BRICK building on Westminster Avenue (today’s Main Street) between Hastings and Pender. A two-storey turret anchored the centre of the grand brick building, with two smaller turrets on either side. Beside the market was a large open shed where farmers sold their livestock at auction. he building was remodelled in 1897 and became the new city hall, leaving Vancouver without a public market.

Feeling the loss, farmers and the general public lobbied to build another market at a new location, complete with its own wharf that would allow a small steamer to deliver farmers and their goods from communities up the Fraser River. Despite community support and an endorsement from the board of trade, the city passed up the preferred site between Westminster and Gore Avenue, but okayed construction on cheaper land just south of False Creek. he building, which advertised wholesale and retail “farm products” and a restaurant that offered “meals at all hours,” opened to much fanfareon August 15, 1908. The Mt. Pleasant Marching Band greeted customers, and a Mrs. Allen was awarded a hindquarter of mutton for being first through the doors. However, this less accessible location failed by the early 1920s, and once again Vancouver lost the permanent market that is key to a local food system. We have been without one ever since.

A food system is how food gets from the farm to the dinner plate. It includes processes as simple as removing dirt from root crops, and as complex as the industrial hocus-pocus that turns soybeans into everything from flour to filler to baby formula. he industrial system that provides most of our food is unimaginably complex, with many ingredients practically untraceable back to an actual farm.

Local food hubs, being developed across North America, can give us a degree of control over our own personal food systems. A hub’s strength comes from its design as a multi-use space. he farmer still grows food at the farm, but the hub provides the infrastructure and services needed to get those products to the consumer as directly as possible. Halifax anchored its hub with a farmers’ market, Sacramento with an aggregation service for small farmers, and Toronto with a wholesale-only market.

Vancouver’s food hub is being realized in the form of New City Market, an indoor space with a year-round weekly farmers’ market, a chefs’ market, and a commercial kitchen. A farmer will be able to bring her truckload of produce from the Fraser Valley or beyond, sell wholesale to stores and restaurants in the morning and directly to the public later in the day, and then sell any surplus for on-site processing, returning to the farm with an empty truck.

Putting so much under one roof will provide multiple sales avenues for producers, thus reducing waste and saving time. “And at the end of the day, this puts more money in the pockets of BC’s small farmers,” says Tara McDonald, NCM project lead. Loren Taves, who grows a variety of crops on his 40-acre family farm in Abbotsford, agrees. “I think they’ve got the right concept,” he says. “I can grow one crop for Costco as all we do, but we’ve elected to stay selling into the farmers’ markets and doing a variety of different products.” Taves thinks it makes smart business sense to pay attention to what the local market asks for, and to prepare for a future that is less reliant on the global food system. “I think as time goes on, we as a people will start to look at what we have locally at our disposal—and those things need to be developed and nurtured today.” For Taves, that includes facilities like New City Market.

As a medium-scale operation with four million dollars in annual sales, he Applebarn Taves Family Farm, is a perfect fit for NCM. Loren understands the advantages of connecting directly with customers, and sees potential benefit in the combined markets and processing facilities. Currently, he runs a truck once a week from his farm to chefs and retailers. “I’d rather have them come to me,” he says with a laugh.

McDonald points to an aggregation service as another area that would be unique to Vancouver, allowing smaller-scale farmers without much supply volume to fill large orders as a group. “here’s less waste of perfectly good produce that wouldn’t otherwise suit a wholesale packing-house’s packaging needs,” she says. Reducing waste while helping small-scale growers to increase their sales facilitates the production of more food. The concept of a local food hub for Vancouver has been discussed for many years—Vancouver’s deputy city manager, Sadhu Johnston, has said that the facility could be the “crown jewel” of the local food system. Both the physical and functional designs are modular and flexible, filling the most urgent food-system gaps first, with the potential for modifications as new requirements and opportunities evolve.

The planning team has spent the winter organizing workshops in Vancouver and Abbotsford, involving key stakeholders to ensure that the needs of the local food system are being met. Farmers, chefs, food producers, and the general public are giving input into how the market would best meet their needs. Construction is proposed to begin in 2013, and once complete, New City Market will help bring supply levels closer to the growing demand, and support the local farm community’s efforts in providing for our dinner tables. It’s a win, win, and win situation for farmers, chefs, and eaters. A food hub works best when it is developed with transparent public input, so say your piece:


Jeff Nield spent 15 years writing, cooking, and eating in Vancouver. He recently relocated to Nelson, where he continues his exploration of BC’s food systems. His article is part of Vancouver Farmers Markets’ “Local Food Connections” project, funded by Vancity’s enviroFund.


One comment

  1. The City Market building on Westminster Ave at False Creek was a grand old beauty! Check out this amazing photo by W. J. Moore from 1921 and make sure to view it at the full, original size: