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In troubled Vancouver neighbourhood, a place to grow food - and a fresh start Add to ...

On a paved parking lot in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, a new farm will soon see vegetables sprouting out of 80 garden boxes, each container about the size of the top of a pool table.

Apart from producing food, the farm's goal is to employ 12 residents of the neighbourhood - many of whom suffer from addiction and mental-health issues, and are often out of work.

"That's who lives down here and that's who needs to work down here and that's who we work with," said Seann Dory, manager of sustainability at United We Can, the organization behind this project.

United We Can is leasing the land for free from the Astoria Hotel, and received $18,000 in donations, along with building materials, from four different organizations. The charity will continue to apply for grants, but hopes the sale of vegetables to local businesses will produce enough revenue to pay the wages of its workers.

The half-acre farm is being built on an old parking lot on Hastings Street. Garden boxes are being placed on top of the asphalt today, and alfalfa will be planted shortly. However, the real farming won't start until the spring, once employees have been hired and trained. The organizers haven't yet decided what they'll grow.

Potluck Café & Catering, a Downtown Eastside organization that supports the community by training and employing residents and by giving out about 110 free meals a day, plans to buy food from the farm.

"We'd be supporting somebody's job," said Heather O'Hara, executive director of Potluck. "Which then enables them to pay for rent, buy food in the neighbourhood, do their laundry and support the local economy."

Hunger in the Downtown Eastside is a concern. Mr. Dory said that most people he knows in the neighbourhood rely on food banks, and many don't get the nutrients they need. Fruits and vegetables are hard to come by.

He realizes that the half-acre farm won't end hunger in the area, but hopes to help some individuals by training and employing them.

Ken Vallee, who said he once suffered from depression and addiction, works at United We Can's bottle depot and is helping to build the farm. He hopes to work there next year.

Valerie Simpson also works at the bottle depot and thinks the farm will be a great benefit for those with mental-health problems. "I think anything to do with being outside, in a garden, it can't help but improve your whole outlook on life," she said.

Along with the farm, United We Can is starting up a composting business where residents pick up waste material from local businesses and take it to the farm for composting.

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