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Ward Teulon Owner / Operator of CityFarmBoy who grows massive amounts of vegetables in 13 plots around the city, from a Yaletown condo rooftop to people's backyards. (JOHN LEHMANN/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Ward Teulon Owner / Operator of CityFarmBoy who grows massive amounts of vegetables in 13 plots around the city, from a Yaletown condo rooftop to people's backyards. (JOHN LEHMANN/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Things that work: the 10th story in series on a better B.C.

Growing an urban revolution Add to ...

Take one Saskatchewan farm boy and move him to the big city. Add a Vancouver condo building's unused rooftop garden and several vacant backyards.

The result is urban farmer Ward Teulon, also known as CityFarmBoy on his website, a 45-year-old former agrologist who has put his farming skills to work in the middle of some of Vancouver's densest neighbourhoods.

He produces $30,000 worth of vegetables, herbs and fruit a year on 8,000 square feet of land in garden plots around the city.

Mr. Teulon, an understated man, said it all began as a lifestyle choice, so he wouldn't have to work for a big company. He was encouraged because people seemed to be looking for quality food.

"People are interested because it's local and it's fresh," said Mr. Teulon, who had 30 families sign up last year to receive shares of his produce and is planning to add 20 more spots next year.

While his operation may seem modest, many people in the food-policy field see Mr. Teulon as someone who is showing the way for what they call "next-generation urban agriculture."

"I really think what Ward is doing is a trend," said Janine de la Salle, the director of food-systems planning at the sustainability consulting firm of HB Lanarc. "It's moving out of the community-allotment garden and into business models."

Herb Barbolet, a member of the city of Vancouver's food-policy council, and urban-agriculture enthusiast Peter Ladner, agreed.

"He doesn't do it to feed hungry people or get inner-city people off drugs," said Mr. Ladner, a former Vancouver city councillor who promoted an expansion of community gardens while he was in office. "His focus is on making a living out of it."

Mr. Teulon started urban farming three years ago in order to travel less and spent more time with his son, who was 2. He started with a half dozen plots and sold his produce at farmer's markets, a small-scale and somewhat arduous process.

Now, he has 65 raised beds on top of the Freesia condo tower on Seymour Street, after he was asked to take over the unused space, along with gardens that he farms in 13 other single-family yards near his house near 21st and Fraser streets on Vancouver's east side.

Out of that 8,000-square-feet - about a fifth of an acre and a flyspeck compared to the 6,000-acre farm he grew up on - he grew about 50 crops last year in multiple rotations. They included carrots - the condo roof was perfect for that, because carrot flies don't go that high - rhubarb, grape vines, herbs, potatoes, garlic, and more.

He no longer goes to markets, but has people commit to buying shares of his produce for the year and picking it up from him.

"I'm getting much smarter," Mr. Teulon said. "I pick it and people come and pull it out of the pile."

Mr. Teulon and four other friends who also do urban farming are now planning to add a five-acre piece of Richmond land to their agriculture empire so they can expand their operations even more.

That expansion of Mr. Teulon's for-profit operation parallels the explosion of interest in community gardens, farmer's markets and local-food diets that has emerged in the past few years.

But experts say his type of operation has more potential to make a significant difference in local food production than the popular, but mostly hobby-oriented community gardens, especially if cities start using their land and buildings more creatively.

The rule of thumb in the urban-ag world is that one person can comfortably farm 2.5 acres, which is enough to provide 100 people with fresh produce. And, when you look around, there is space everywhere.

Ms. de la Salle said it's been estimated, that Metro Vancouver could get 15,000 hectares of urban agriculture space on the roofs of industrial buildings alone if they were retrofitted.

"It's got so much potential to feed us."

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