New Kind of Neighbourhood

A week ago, we moved to an apartment ‘on the farm.’ We’ve already experienced the benefits of living in this new location so close to our gardens, but, as it always is, moving was a challenge and I just want to take a minute to thank Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers for getting me through the week. Their last album as the Modern Lovers, Modern Lovers ‘88, was the one I played the most. It’s got songs about farming (“There ain’t no potato like natural potato, And there ain’t no tomato like natural tomato”), west coast parties, the Marx Brothers, being out late on summer nights, and even one about discovering a new neighbourhood. 

One difference I notice between this neighbourhood and our old one is how the front yards look. In our old neighbourhood, especially on Point Grey Road, many of the front yards look like this:

Or this:

I wonder who lives behind those hedges?

On these streets, there is typically some form of barrier separating the house and the sidewalk -- either a wall or fence with a gate, and often a monolithic cedar or laurel (or yew, for the more affluent properties) hedge blocking the entire house from the street. In our new neighbourhood there are a few such barriers, so mostly we get to see and appreciate how many of the houses look, and we get to wave to people on the porch, or have a conversation without feeling enclosed in a green hallway full of cars (to be clear, I love treed streets, which create more of an enclosing canopy -- our new street has amazing mature trees). 

A Riley Park--Little Mountain front yard

We live on one corner of our block and on another corner is The Mighty Oak Neighbourhood Grocery Store -- one of the “hidden gems” of Vancouver. The day after we moved in we went for lunch there and shared a vegan chorizo and potato wrap, and a brie and fig and arugula sandwich. The Mighty Oak has an important history with City Beet -- it was where Katie and Ruth originally held their CSA pickup. 

My other glasses broke recently and now with my backup pair, Liana and I match maybe too much.

Walking around this block alone, we can see four of our garden plots. On Wednesday afternoon/evening I was planting some herbs that we moved from a former landowner’s garden to one of these gardens on our block, and over a span of a couple hours I talked with four different people who were walking by. I talked with someone who had spoken with Maddy or Elana last year about that garden, who knew about the farm, and who lives on a third corner of our block. I demonstrated chive planting for a toddler with a matching pink helmet and bicycle (I have a matching blue helmet and bicycle), who seemed fascinated with everything in the world, and who was out for a walk with their grandparent. I responded to another person asking “[are] those shallots?” prematurely with a “yes, [they’re] chives!” to which they replied “nice” without missing a step, and talked with someone else who assured me that even though the sage plants are old, it’s “still good sage.”

This experience reminded me of another song about neighbourhoods and getting to know the people in your neighbourhood from the TV show Sesame Street. It's called "The People in Your Neighborhood." It was written by Jeff Moss in 1969, and originally sung several times at first by Bob Johnson (played by Bob McGrath) and an assortment of Anything Muppets, but was performed many times by different characters on the show after that. Each new verse describes a different jobholder who you might meet in your neighbourhood.

But how could the residents of a place like Sesame Street hope to meet one another if they had large hedges or fences surrounding their properties and cutting them off from the street? How could they expect to hear about the grocer’s big “sale on kale?” We are not the only ones farming Riley Park--Little Mountain front yards. Many of our neighbours with south-facing front gardens use these as productive spaces, or find other ecological alternatives to lawns. I think that having a big hedge, especially on a south-facing lawn, utterly precludes the possibility of meeting the people in your neighbourhood and reimagining how our streets could look. 

I have been thinking more about the neighbourhoods in which I have lived and what worked and what didn’t in each. I think we should try to identify more with our neighbourhoods. It is a really useful unit of analysis that often makes more sense than the city, province, or country. Neighbourhood councils and planning assemblies give people the opportunity to have a say in their own lives, and interact face-to-face with one another to arrive at decisions that will benefit friends and neighbours. We should seek to influence the world through conversations and events happening in spaces right outside our doors. For this we also need public places to meet, and Sesame Street has a song about that, too.

Vancouver Neighbourhoods with Boundaries (credit: https://www.vcbf.ca/education/scout-corner)

I acknowledge also that currently, for the most part, neighbourhood associations give power to people with the time and resources to participate. The phrase “there goes the neighbourhood” is often used to disapprove of changes in the types of people moving to a neighbourhood, which often goes hand-in-hand with racism, elitism, and parochialism. What would it look like to have democratic institutions in our neighbourhoods in which everyone has a say and it is understood that everyone has a right to the time and resources to participate (pay people for this work!)?

Neighbourhoods sometimes become a place for noticing legitimate decline and some people write nostalgic songs about what they used to be, or could have been. My favourite Arcade Fire song off of Funeral (2004) is “Neighbourhood #2 (Laïka),” and this band is famous for writing about the sense of placelessness and feeling of growing up in the suburbs, which typically lack neighbourhood character. Tom Waits’ “In the Neighborhood” off of Swordfishtrombones (1983) is a beautiful waltz filled with haunting imagery of an urban neighbourhood that is facing crime, houselessness, and constant construction, that was once a place where kids could buy ice cream, food got delivered without too much noise, and where the types of relationships that help humans thrive have been replaced by impersonal and isolating ones (check out the music video for this one if you haven’t seen it -- Waits leads an eclectic marching band filmed with an up-close fisheye lens through the streets; the kind of thing you might not even notice from behind a giant cedar hedge).

Perhaps the most famous and recognizable song about neighbours and neighbourhoods is “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” by Fred Rogers. For those of us who grew up watching Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street, we were shown interactions between people in TV shows that were about real and sometimes make-believe places with characters with real feelings who demonstrated neighbourliness. The main reason I love to farm in the city is to practice this face-to-face neighbourliness and maybe help create a new kind of neighbourhood. 

For now, I’m looking forward to, as Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers put it, “those hot nights when a t-shirt feels right!” I’ll close with a verse from the song that inspired this post:

Well your friends were dancing on the lawn
It was a new kind of neighborhood
And no one stared like something's wrong
New kind of neighborhood
Oh-wow-o, new kind of neighborhood

- "New Kind of Neighborhood," Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers (1988) 


See you on the front garden!

- Duncan

P.S. We seeded onions this weekend and for now they live with us too in our attic apartment.

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City Beet Season 9

I love that farming comes in seasons. The ‘hard reset’ of winter keeps the activities and projects from blurring into one another, and I find myself better able to keep track of when stuff happened, who I was gardening or farming with, and what worked and what didn’t. This is because all the events took place firmly within a given calendar year, with a break to reflect and relax before starting the next season. 

For example, 2015 was my first full season farming, made possible by a grant-funded “research” project, for which I split my time between an urban farm and a peri-urban farm in Hamilton, Ontario. In 2016, I graduated undergrad and moved into the urban farmhouse for a full-time farm internship in exchange for room and board -- probably my most immersive season. In 2017, I was still living and working on the farm while researching and writing my first master’s thesis on Hamilton’s community gardening efforts in the 1930s. Liana and I grew decorative gourds for the first time that year in her backyard. In 2018, I was an employee on the urban farm, worked at a children’s museum in the afternoons, and as a tour guide at the historic house and garden of the first honorary member of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects on the weekends (LARPing as a 1930s butler, in keeping with the probable origins of my last name).

In 2015 I grew my hair long and biked to the urban farm from my apartment above a sub shop.

In 2015 I grew my hair long and biked to Backyard Harvest Urban Farm from my apartment above a sub shop. This is me, our dedicated volunteer Peter, and farmer Russ with the pre-paint-job VW Transporter.

In September 2018, we moved to Vancouver and I wasn’t working on a farm for the first time in four years. But when the 2019 growing season came around I was still in farmer mode. I turned over our entire backyard in Kits, planted spinach, a double row of peas, and one (1) tray of lettuce, parsley, and basil. I probably potted up ¾ of the lettuce and had room to plant around ¼ of it in the garden. We ended up with way more than enough lettuce for ourselves and to share, nice basil for a while, and the right amount of parsley (a notorious slow-starter from seed). That summer I also finally did my Permaculture Design Certificate through UBC Farm and OUR Ecovillage, and got my farming fix. 

In the 2020 season, I was fortunate to work on a research project maintaining 12 experimental rain gardens, recording bloom times for flowering perennials and observing pollinator interactions. Our home garden was entirely taken up by garlic that year, so the weeding and hoeing at the experimental plots gave me a great opportunity to spend a day or two a week in the sun. 

Our Kitsilano backyard, 2019

On the farm in Hamilton we used to play a game called “what would you grow if you could only grow three things.” My answer was usually (and perhaps unsurprisingly, given the preceding paragraphs) garlic, sugar snap peas, and spinach. Fortunately, by returning to farming this season, we won’t have to limit what we grow (too much). For 2021, I am excited to report that we ordered seeds for 72 varieties of fruits and vegetables, around 16 types of flowers (all new for me!), and 2 kinds of assorted decorative gourds. 

I have been trying to learn as much as I can about the previous City Beet seasons. I know that Seasons 1 through 4 (2013 - 2016) were brought to you by Katie and Ruth. Digging into the archived blog they kept when interning in Ontario, then starting the farm in the northwest of Riley Park was so inspiring, and it is amazing to see the connections they forged and business they established from scratch. In Seasons 5 through 8 (2017 - 2020), Maddy and Elana did an incredible job of growing the farm’s land base by adding a quarter acre in Southlands, deepening community connections, and creating new infrastructure and processes specific to urban farming.

What sorts of things are you looking forward to for Season 9 of City Beet Farm? It’s generally accepted that around Season 9 was the last good season of The Simpsons. But don’t worry, farm seasons are not like TV show seasons. The soil and social relationships surrounding the farm improve each year as we add organic matter to the gardens and care for our neighbours. The stories and jokes will write themselves! 

Thanks to everyone who has signed up for a CSA share already. We are so grateful for the warm welcome we have received from the City Beet community so far, and your support means a lot to us! We very much look forward to meeting you all in person this season.



P.S. Here are some fun seeds we ordered, that you can expect in CSA shares in the 2021 season:

  • Watermelon radish
  • Purple carrots (thanks mother Chambers for insisting)
  • Many colours of strawflowers
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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!


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 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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