Like many of Vancouver’s urban farmers, Emi Do operates outside the law. Unlike most, her product is no more nefarious than Swiss chard and collard greens. The 28-year-old owner of Yummy Yards has backyard garden plots throughout the city’s west side. Her commercial enterprise, however, exists in a “murky area” of city licensing and bylaws, so she calls that aspect of her business “edible landscaping” to be on the safe side. That may eventually change. After years of fighting to stamp out marijuana cultivation, Vancouver council wants to tweak its laws to encourage legitimate commercial farming in a city better known for growing condo towers.
The move will require easing prohibitions on businesses operating on residential land and in indoor commercial hothouses—laws that were created to stop marijuana grow operations, says Coun. Andrea Reimer, a member of council’s Greenest City Action Team. A crackdown in the 1990s created the “unintended consequences” that now block urban food production. “To open that door again, we have to do it in a way that doesn’t allow grow ops to also walk through.”
As it stands, Do can’t get a license as a “food producer” in Vancouver. Nor can she sell veggies that have been grown in the yards of people who offer up their land in exchange for landscaping and fresh produce. For now, she views her Vancouver plots as a form of business advertising and has moved her commercial crops to agriculturally zoned land on the city fringe. For $640, customers get a weekly box of fresh veggies throughout the 18-week growing season.
In the past, Do has worked in health care and education. When people ask what she does for a living, once Vancouver finally changes its laws she’ll be able to proudly reply “farmer,” an occupation the city hasn’t seen for a very long time.