Urban Stream: Food for the future, technology from the past

Posted by wesleysregan on September 04, 2012 2 Comments

Why do my partner Nick and I want to grow food in cities? Why have we started a business that lenders and investors struggle to understand and for which there are no existing models or precedents for us to draw from as we plan?  And why are we so passionate about this apparently quixotic vision? I guess like many others we see the writing on the wall. We need new ways of doing things, and new ways of thinking, if we want to thrive in the future. We don’t mind being ahead of the curve if that’s what it takes.

I remember being young, ten or eleven years old, and drawing absurd pictures of cities so densely packed with skyscrapers that there could hardly be room for sidewalks. Maybe it was those early trips to Calgary when I would press my face to the cold pane of my aunt’s office window high up in the Petro Canada Tower and look down at the cars and people like little ants below, but something had instilled a fascination with cities in me at this early age.

I suppose it’s no surprise, I was born in an Inuit fishing village at the edge of the Arctic Ocean and the first decade of my life was largely spent up there, where the tallest structure in most towns was a flagpole. After that I spent several years in Kelowna BC, what was then the fastest growing city in Canada, where cookie cutter housing developments devoured orchards and forests like a slow moving wildfire of concrete and manicured lawns. The stark contrast of the two and the early trips to Calgary probably planted the seeds of wonderment pretty early on. But let’s head back to the arctic though, because what is happening here in Vancouver with a renaissance in urban farming and what’s happening up north with food food security challenges are related phenomena that stem from the same fundamental issues and inspire me equally to consider communities and food in unorthodox ways.

Our food up north (Norman Wells NWT) came from a combination of hunting and fishing, surprisingly productive greenhouses, and the plethora of canned or otherwise processed goods that would make their way up the Mackenzie River by barge after the ice breakup. The cost of food was always a little higher back then but today’s prices for common food items in many northern communities are at completely unsustainable and unreasonable rates. The nutritional quality of these “fresh” foods has also long since departed by the time they arrive in all their droopy splendor, this being their true value of course. Like the skin pallor of the recently deceased it seems to evaporate into the great beyond as the firm leaf wilts and the shiny pepper caves into wrinkled mush. Meanwhile, though Vancouver enjoys great access to foods from all over the world the methods in which those foods are grown and then shipped, sometimes from as far away as New Zealand, are also completely unsustainable. These are some of the reasons why my partner Nick and I are trying to contribute to changing the way we think about both food and the design of our communities, through our company Urban Stream and our work as a member of the Vancouver Urban Farming Society. We are both passionate about ocean and freshwater health, more on that later.

Some baby greens growing in one of our hydroponic units

Urban Stream isn’t a farm per se, and I’m not sure if we’re even agrarians for that matter. Urban Stream isn’t organically certified nor is it even “natural” by some people’s standards. But if the increasingly complex and daunting challenges our food system faces at numerous scales continue Urban Stream might just offer a glimpse at what sustainable farming in the future might look like, at least for some.

Urban Stream for all intents and purposes is a green-tech start-up. Three years in, my partner and co-founder Nick Hermes and I have developed a suite of technologies and services that seek to radically improve the resiliency and sustainability of food systems in urban and remote communities. Perhaps what’s most radical is that these technologies fly in the face of modern technological food fixes (GMO, monocropping, nitrogen fixing etc.) and have more or less existed for thousands of years, it’s how we put them all together that’s novel.

More on that next time.

Wes Regan is co-founder and Vice-President of Urban Stream Innovation and a founding Director of the Vancouver Urban Farming Society

He holds a BA in Human Geography and Certificate in Urban Studies From Simon Fraser University and an Associates Degree in Geography from Langara College

please visit part2 for the rest of this story

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