July 7, 2013 8:36 pm

What is an Urban Orchard? Largest in North America opens in Vancouver (photos)

For Michael Ableman, co-founder, SOLEfoods Street Farms, an Urban Orchard has been in the works for about 35 years.

He, along with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, opened the largest one in North America in downtown Vancouver, at Main and Terminal, on Sunday.

It’s an orchard growing in the middle of the city, that is designed to produce a lot of food.

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“We spent about a month, a couple of months cleaning up [the site], we have designed special boxes which were manufactured in the region here,” said Ableman. “These allow us to isolate the growing medium from the contaminated soil. They also have forklift tabs so we can move on short notice thereby allowing us to carry on agricultural production on expensive real estate, or valuable real estate zones and be able to move on short notice.”

Trees growing in the Urban Orchard include lemon, fig, persimmon, pear, apple, plum, and cherry.

Every other box also will also have a culinary herb planted in it.

That production will begin right away and the rest of the project will take three to five years to get into commercial production.

“This is a production model,” said Ableman. “It’s designed to produce production quantities of food and jobs, two of our primary goals.”

SOLEfoods actually has four sites now in the City of Vancouver and they employ 25 people, most of whom are from the DTES, said Ableman.

Robertson said this area is currently contaminated land, as it was a gas station for decades. “The city owns the real estate, but it sat empty for over a decade,” he said. “And basically unusable for typical uses that we’re seeing around here.”

He called the Urban Orchard a ‘breakthrough’.  The city is leasing the land to SOLEfoods for a small amount for the next three years.

“This is high leverage for land in the middle of our city, which otherwise we wouldn’t get anything from,” said Robertson.

© Shaw Media, 2013

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