2020 CSA SOLD OUT! Find us every Tuesday 4-630 pm at The Federal Store for market and online orders

Why I Farm: A Glimpse of Our Story

In 2013, two young women much like myself and Elana started City Beet Farm. Ruth and Katie were posed with the biggest obstacle to new entrant farmers today, cost and access to land. To overcome this barrier, they canvased Vancouver’s neighbourhoods to find a community that would convert lawns within biking distance from each other into what would collectively form a small scale farm.

City Beet began as five or so lawns and sold produce through a veggie box prog­ram with 20 members. Today, City Beet is a 15-site urban farm growing vegetables and flowers on ½ an acre of land in run by myself and Elana Evans. Elana and I bought the farm in 2016 and have put our own creative spin on it, while continuing to prioritize the health if our community and of the soil.

Our relationship to the soil, starts with our relationship to each homeowner and the land we cultivate. Some homeowners want to support young farmers and some, honestly, don’t want to mow their lawn. We trade our use of their land for a weekly box of vegetables, and sell the rest through a community supported agriculture (CSA) model.


Our CSA members pay in advance of the season and come pick up their vegetables weekly from June until October. Community Supported Agriculture means that we all share the risks inherent in growing food. Their upfront investment allows us to make decisions, buy inputs and ultimately grow better food.


While a multi-site urban farm can’t be certified organic, we use organic and regenerative agriculture principles that prioritize the health of the soil. We believe that by being stewards of the land and taking good care of the soil, the land will do its work of returning abundant and nutritious produce.

Elana and I met in 2013 tree-planting in Northern Alberta and have been the closest of friends since. After my fifth season planting and her second season at the UBC farm, Elana showed me that City Beet was for sale. Despite having zero farming experience, her soil science background and my business background felt like a natural fit. While it started out as a bit of a joke, here we are 4 seasons later.

While I used to be uncomfortable by the fact that I didn’t have a PhD in Horticulture, truthfully, before our first season, I had no farming experience. While it used to make me insecure that I had no experience on a farm, as I get deeper entrenched in our food system, I’m realizing that to be a more important part of the story.


A secure food system starts with self-suffiency and supporting young farmers, and the reality is accessibility is a huge part of that. We need to remember that anyone who loves hard work, endless learning and having their hands in the soil can grow beautiful vegetables. And that farming is a viable profession.

Initially, I found myself drawn to farming as a social entrepreneur, but through four seasons my love of farming has evolved far beyond that. Growing food, for me, feels like a tangible and practical response to exercise what I feel is my responsibility and accountability to the earth. City Beet symbolizes a love for the land and respect for people and community.

During our CSA pick-ups, 81 members come together every Tuesday to connect directly with their farmers and eachother. It builds a sense of community through providing the best possible, nutritious produce that people can feel good about feeding their families.

Beyond just growing food, City Beet encourages people to rethink their use of space. The fact is, lawns are dumb. And there is a real power in re-claiming community space and re-defining the concept of what is truly “local” food in Vancouver. When we started, some of our sites had lifeless soil made up of gravel and fill from development. After three years of applying regenerative principles, the site and surrounding area are lush and the soil full of worms and life.


While everyone’s question seems to be around the growth of the business, Elana and I have always focused on prioritizing our CSA members and doing what we do really well. Through this philosophy, the business has grown organically and we now have employees, and sell through a larger CSA, pop up markets, and select grocers. We doubled our growing space last year when we were given ¼ of an acre in Southlands, Vancouver, and converted it from grass to our first harvest in just 14 weeks. 

And while Elana and I don’t intend on being urban farmers forever, businesses like City Beet allow for an innovative way to be a farmer and an entrepreneur without the barrier to owning land. Both through my experience of being a tree-planter and an urban farmer, I have developed a respect for the land and a deep intentionality behind the use of space.


City Beet has enabled me to become part of the most supportive network of womxn farmers and community members who lift me up. There are endless benefits to our city to rethink the way in which we use space, how we treat the native soil, and the demand that exists for real food grown with integrity.

And at the end of the day, the reason I get up to farm in the morning is because I have the privilege of spending each day caring for the land alongside my best friend and share the bounty of that labour with family and my community. 

This definitely has not been easy. Farmers are grossly underpaid and overworked, but there is nothing more rewarding than being the working hands behind our local food system.

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Starting From Seed

With the current state of things, it feels more important than ever to ensure our communities have access to nutritious food. COVID19 has meant a shift for small farms and their consumers, including access to markets. While we are committed for our food to reach you through our CSA and online orders, we also want to support you through sharing more educational content, so you can do this on your own.

Elana will be sharing video content and photos through Instagram (@citybeetfarm), while I (Maddy) will be writing blog posts that you can follow along, come back to and reference. What better time for some solitude in the garden and practicing self-sufficiency? 

Where to Start

We have been seeding indoors for a few weeks now, but no need to stress if you haven't gotten to it yet! The first week of March we seeded onions and our first round of scallions. In the last two weeks, we've started:

  • Kale

  • Broccolini

  • Chard

  • Flowers (Ammi, Statice, Strawflower, Rudbeckia)

  • Tomatoes

  • Eggplant

  • Peppers

  • Parsley 

  • Kohlrabi

  • Fennel 

  • Lettuce (Salanova)

We ordered our seeds from Johnny's and Osborne Seeds this year, and like to order from BC Eco Seed Co-op and Adaptive Seeds when we can.

We start our seeds in cell flats, which vary in size. The cell size you start your trays in should consider how much time the plant will spend in the cell and the space it needs for the root system to develop. While most of our plants are started in 11 inch x 21 inch trays that house 72, 98 or 128 cells. For home gardeners, small individuals pots will work just fine.

Potting Mix

The quality of the soil that you seed into is important and your soil needs the right drainage, water retention, pH, fertilization and other soil characteristics. It might be more convenient for you to buy a top quality potting mix or, like us, try making your own. Our recipe includes:

1. 4.2 gallon bucket of peat moss
2. 2/3 of the 4.2 gallon bucket of vermiculite
3. 1/2 cup bone meal
4. 1/4 cup kelp meal
5. 1/4 cup blood meal
6. 1/4 cup lime
7. ~1 gallons of worm castings (or a generous amount)

We fill up each tray with potting mix and then level it out. From there, we will apply some pressure with another tray on top to create space to seed into. We then drop our seeds into each cell, taking into consideration germination rates. From there, we cover lightly with potting soil and water them in. 

Most plants will require one seed per cell, but with older seeds, you may want to consider planting more seeds and then thinning if multiple germinate. We also use this technique for seeds with lower germination rates, like chard. 

Another fun technique is seeding bunches of scallions together. We seed 8 per cell and transplant them as one pod. This saves time later as they grow together and are harvested in a ready bunch!

Light

We seed into trays and start our plants inside under grow lights until they germinate and are ready to go into our green house. This also helps us in the early months as its costly for us to heat a greenhouse.

Our greenhouse is unheated, but it gets strong sun exposure during the day and has some reflective insulation to protect our plants from the cooler nights in the early part of the season. We are lucky with Vancouver's milder temperatures.

Some plants require light to germinate, such as some lettuces or flowers. These plants may want to be covered with a lighter amount of soil or vermiculite. Read the packages and look out for "needs light to germinate". 

Watering

Watering takes some patience. The water will need to penetrate the soil and make sure its reaching deep into the cells. So, do your best to ensure you are not just watering superficially. This same principle will apply throughout the season!

When watering, keep a delicate balance of adequate watering, but not too often as too much moisture can lead to fungal disease like "damping off". 

After caring for the seedlings, eventually they will be transplanted into your garden! Stay tuned for our next post on how to prep your garden beds for seeding.Our earliest transplanting dates are set for mid-April and we won't begin direct seeding into the ground for a couple weeks, when the soil temperature has risen and our beds are prepped with compost. 

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