Interviews with the Society’s Presidents

By Dennis J. Dennis

To help members appreciate our outgoing president and get to know the incoming president I asked them a few questions about their work on and off the board.

Interview with Ngaio Hotte, VUFS President June 2012 – December 2013

Ngaio Hotte (right) with Board Director Gavin Wright at the 2012 Parks Board Sustenance Festival

D: Were you the first president of the board? If so what role did you play, if any, in founding the society?

N: I was the first President of the Society. After the 2011 Urban Farming Forum, it was apparent that there was interest in having a formal, structured Society recognized under provincial law, so a group of us got together and began working through what that would look like. We met every two weeks from January through April to discuss the vision, purpose and by-laws of the Society and eventually became the founding Directors who organized the inaugural AGM in June 2012.

D: What led you into the role of VUFS president?

N: I think the fact that I was supportive of urban farming and familiar with local operations but did not operate my own urban farm was helpful for the position. It meant that I could have and be seen as having an objective view on urban farming issues. It also meant that I could dedicate a consistent level of effort to the position throughout the year, including during the growing season. I also tend to be organized and methodical, which helped us to work through the initial stages of establishing and growing the Society.

D: Can you share a few VUFS accomplishments that occurred under your time as president?

N: The history of the organization dates back to its roots as the Urban Farming Network, starting in 2010. Without the informal networking of this group and the listserv that was established, VUFS would not exist today.

Since VUFS was officially founded in 2012, we have secured approximately $100,000 in funding from Vancity, the City of Vancouver and other sources to support research, networking, public engagement, farmer training and events. We have held the 2012 and 2013 Urban Farming Forums and AGMs and we hired two part-time researchers who have provided incredible support to VUFS and helped us to redesign our website and newsletter. Externally, we have worked with the City of Vancouver to support its Urban Farming Technical Team and its process to develop an urban agriculture policy for the City.

D: What were some of the bigger challenges you have faced over your time with the VUFS?

N: VUFS is still working to define itself and its role, which is a challenging process but is typical for a new organization. We have big ambitions but we are still figuring out who we are and what we do best. Engaging with the membership has also been even more important than I think we realized at the outset. With so many people in Vancouver either involved in or supportive of urban farming, we really need to make sure we are communicating about developments and activities in which VUFS is involved. As a volunteer Board, it can be difficult to remember that amid all our other activities.

I think what VUFS needs now in a President is an Ambassador. It needs someone who can step forward and be the face of the organization and to whom the members can really relate. We have several successes under our belt now and a much better idea of who we are as an organization, so I think we are ready to present ourselves more publicly. At the same time, VUFS needs someone who is a good listener and who is willing to do what is best for the organization, even if this does not align with their own personal vision for urban farming.

D: What have you found most rewarding about the position?

N: Seeing the large number of people who support our work come out to our events is a really rewarding experience. Not every organization can pack a room to standing-only for its AGM, but we can. Sure, we have great food and great people, but even on a rainy day we still fill the space. And this year’s Urban Farming Forum was fully registered, with a waitlist. We had over a hundred people in attendance. That kind of enthusiasm is infectious.

D: What is one of your favourite foods that you can get from an urban farm in Vancouver and how do you like to prepare/eat it?

N: I’d have to say urban-farmed eggs are my favourite. You know the farmer, so you can be confident that the chickens have been fed quality feed and kept in humane conditions. Poached, on homemade bread is my favourite way to enjoy them.


Interview with Karen Ageson, VUFS President as of January 2014

Karen Ageson (center) at the 2012 Vancouver Urban Farming Forum

D: How long have you been farming, and where?

K: I farmed for four years up at Farmers on 57th and before that WWOOFed and interned in Switzerland and New Brunswick, and did some SPIN gardening in Ottawa.

D: Can you share an update on Farmers on 57th?

K: Big question! There’s always lots going on with Farmer on 57th. Three new growers will run the veggie CSA this year. Susheela, Reta and Jonny, all 2013 graduates of the UBC Farm Practicum. Last year Tessa ran the veggie CSA with 3 apprentices and volunteers but she’s off to Armstrong to start a 2 acre vegetable & livestock operation through a farm succession arrangement. And me, home with a baby took care of the administrative side of things last year and am happy to pass along the opportunity to grow this year to a new crop of farmers.

Last year we had 36 CSA members and ran a Grow Your Own Food Course with 12 families. Churchill Secondary school also had a share with us, made possible by the Farm to School program. Jess continues to grow flowers for market and the Metro Vancouver City Farm Co-op while our long time volunteer Eva is putting to test what she’s learned from Jess and taking over flowers for the CSA. Jen will run Tuesday garden club for a 6th consecutive year with about 30 residents of George Pearson Centre. Jen has also worked hard to ensure Farmers on 57th and horticultural programs for the residents remains part of the vision for the redevelopment of the George Pearson site. Vancouver Coastal Health has gone to the City of Vancouver with a development policy statement which includes 1 acre dedicated to urban farming. A huge win, if it goes through, for urban farming in the city in cooperation with the local health authority.

D: Are there any other food/farming/policy work that you are or have been involved in?

K: I am a research associate at the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. I work with Kent Mullinix and his team as an economist on the Bioregional Food System Design and Planning projects. I have a degree in agricultural economics from UBC and a background in organic agriculture having worked for Canadian Organic Growers (COG) and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM).

D: What are some upcoming VUFS projects or activities that you are excited about?

K: I’m super excited about the projects we’ll be doing this year to address barriers to best practices. Ideas that have been kicking around for a while now, like tool sharing and a program to enrich the learning experiences of urban farming interns. Projects to support urban farming businesses in Vancouver and make them more viable over the long term. Also getting back to our roots and hosting some kick ass networking opportunities for farmers in the city.

D: Are there any particular future projects or directions that you hope to bring to the VUFS board?

K: We need the programs we take on, like tool sharing to be self-sustaining. We also need to diversify our funding and implement more programs that support the success of urban farm businesses in the city.

D: What is one of your favourite foods that you can get from an urban farm in Vancouver (or that you grow) and how do you like to prepare/eat it?

K: I love fresh beets from the farm. I grate em’ and eat ’em raw with my salad. I also love fresh parsley in my smoothies. Kale too. Sorry, that’s three.