SOLE Food transforms vacant urban spaces into farms on the street
Vancity has been great because they sit down with you, roll up their sleeves up, and work on the plans with you. Michael Ableman, co-director, Sole Food Street Farms
Michael Ableman and Seann Dory, Co-Directors of Sole Food Street Farms, are modest about their achievements in the Downtown Eastside. But their work to establish organic urban food production is having a big impact on people in the neighbourhood, providing them with meaningful employment and a chance to be involved in their community.
Sole Food Street Farms grows and sells organic produce and provides employment and training in urban agriculture for Vancouver’s inner-city residents. Vancity has been involved from the start and is now providing financing for this social enterprise to expand. In conjunction with a grant from the Radcliffe Foundation, Vancity provided Sole Food with a Resilient* loan totalling $175,000 and a grant for $75,000.
The added investment has allowed the project to expand from one site to five, transforming under-used urban spaces into farms that produce food. The number of people employed by the project has increased from six to more 25, primarily from the Downtown Eastside. The goal of the expansion is to make Sole Food a self-sustaining social and environmental enterprise.
“Depending on their background, employees work between eight and 40 hours a week,” says Dory. “Being able to do meaningful work is really valuable to the people who work here. For the people who are working only a few hours a week it’s not really about the money. They’re coming here because it’s a place where they are valued and they can contribute to their community. There is a social aspect to it.”
Vancity investment manager Christine Bergeron worked on the financing for the expansion of Sole Food Street Farms.
“They have this great combination of growing local and organic produce and at the same time providing meaningful employment to residents of the Downtown Eastside who face multiple life challenges,” says Christine. “We’re really excited about what Sole Food is trying to do and we hope they’re successful with their expansion.”
“Vancity has been great because they sit down with you, roll up their sleeves up, and work on the plans with you,” Michael says. “They really care about what we’re doing. I don’t know of many financial institutions that are so good at helping organizations connect with the resources they need to turn their ideas into reality. All we want to do is provide a place where people can work and if that has a positive effect on their lives, then that’s great. We’re not in the business of trying to save anybody. We just want to provide opportunities for people in a place where opportunities are often limited, and Vancity has made that possible.”
*Financing secured through the Resilient Capital Program. Resilient Capital™ is an investment program dedicated to accelerating the growth of organizations with proven business models that add to the social, economic, and environmental well-being of their communities. The Resilient Capital Program is made possible by a partnership between Vancity and Vancouver Foundation. Learn more.