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Posts Tagged ‘environmetal and social sustainability’

This past summer a pilot project, run through the UBC Bike Co-op, made an important connection between two valuable movements: local food security and bike advocacy. Kevin Cooper and Martin Gunst launched Marketcargo, a multifaceted project that used a fleet of cargo bikes to deliver local produce from various farms (including the UBC Farm) to market locations and homes. This project, although based out of UBC had a larger community scope. It is one example of an initiative aiming to address broader issues within our food system.

Using Surly’s ‘Big Dummy as a cargo bike along with a custom welded trailer, Cooper and Gunst hauled local produce in a rough loop around the city to execute a three-pronged project.  First, from the UBC Farm, Cooper and Gunst delivered the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes throughout Kitsilano. Second, Gunst and Cooper offered home delivery service to market goers at the Kitsilano Farmer’s Market and the Main St. Farmer’s Market, This meant that pedestrian market shoppers and even folks on bikes could request that the Marketcargo cyclist takes their load of groceries home for them. The idea was to discourage market goers from driving their vehicles and to encourage people to purchase all their groceries at these markets. The third aspect of the Marketcargo project included delivering produce as well as the vendor supplies from the Farmers on 57th to the Main St. Farmer’s Market, which allowed them to sell their produce outside of their own facility.

UBC’s Land and Food Systems (LFS) faculty has been a significant force(? Needs a noun) in growing both bike advocacy and the local food movement on UBC’s campus. Kevin Cooper, president of the UBC Bike Co-op, noted that the connection between the UBC Farm and the Bike Co-op goes back to the Co-op’s creation. He described the Co-op as “the child of LFS.”  The Bike Co-op actually started out in McMillan, the LFS faculty’s building. The LFS faculty has also been a crucial force in preserving, maintaining and growing the farm. The UBC Farm initiative began in 2000 when students in Agricultural Science (now the Faculty of Land and Food Systems) came up against plans to develop the land and expressed concern for the preservation of the land as a farm and an important outdoor education facility. The UBC Farm has remained partnered with the Co-op, using a fleet of bikes for farm staff, volunteers and visitors.

This interconnectedness of sustainable transportation movements and local food movements is not insignificant. They both play into a larger food systems approach in addressing issues of sustainability. The systems approach to “building community food security requires an understanding of how communities interact with resources in their social and physical environments over extended periods of time. It also uses strategies that address broad systemic issues affecting food availability and quality” (McCullen 278). The Marketcargo project employs this food systems approach in its efforts.

“Everything that we do with Marketcargo is aimed at decreasing the environmental impact of the food we eat by supporting local producers, and inspiring others to do the same,” said Gunst. The project offered home delivery of the UBC Farm’s CSA boxes to houses west of Macdonald Street. This service was free as a part of the Co-op’s commitment to demonstrating that bikes are an easy and efficient way to haul heavy loads and creating a car-free Vancouver. Addressing issues of sustainability and environmental impact within Vancouver’s transportation system is one prong of this food systems approach to community food security. “With this program, the Co-op promoted active forms of transportation, reducing motor vehicle dependence, and supporting local food security” (Coop). This promotion of the project as a holistic approach to improving the community’s food security, environment, health and economy was key to its success. “A sustainable community food system improves the health of the community, environment and individuals over time involving a collaborative effort in a particular setting to build locally based, self-reliant food systems and economies” (McCullum 278). In Marketcargo’s promotion, the Coop spoke about the positive environmental impacts and the personal health benefits of cycling, and also the positive feedbacks of supporting the local food economy.

Although this project is a part of this larger food systems approach, it is not necessarily self-sufficient. One pitfall of projects that provide free service is that the funding to operate such projects must come from outside sources. Much of Marketcargo’s funding came from a Human Resources District Canada (HRDC) grant, and much of the labour was volunteered or for school credit. Many grassroots organizations and endeavors begin this way. The existence of grassroots projects is valuable and not to be discounted. However if our aim is to drastically alter our food system and sustain that, then efforts and resources must be geared towards evolving such projects into a self-perpetuating form.

As a foody, bike mechanic and amateur gardener I have a vested interest in projects that involve sustainable transportation and local food in Vancouver. I work at both Our Community Bikes (OCB) in town and The Bike Kitchen on campus. OCB is a non-profit bike shop that teaches and promotes folks to fix their own bicycles. It also develops and promotes the use of pedal-powered technology. Working for this fifteen-year-old organization, which is run by consensus, I have learned the importance of being an economically and socially sustainable operation. I have also become more critical of new projects that claim to be environmentally and socially conscious because of rampant ‘greenwashing’. However, with the increase in accessibility and popularity of projects such as Marketcargo that use a food systems approach, it is ultimately raising awareness. With increased awareness comes an increase in trust and investment in such community-focused projects. Thus leading to an overtaking of our current evil capitalist food system by a new locally environmentally and socially sustainable food system. Well, hopefully. We can call it Cyclofoodyism.

Reference:

Mc Cullum, C. “Evidence-Based Strategies to Build Community Food Security.”  American Dietetic Association. (2005) 278-283

Pedal Powered Produce – Marketcargo Helps Urban Farmers Switch Gears. Momentum July 29, 2009

Pedal-Powered Groceries. Kootenay Co-op Radio: Deconstructing Dinner October 1, 2009

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