Paul Hughes founded Grow Calgary in 2008 in an effort to resolve what he considers to be two important issues: food and lifestyle.
Hughes believes Calgarians need to take a serious look at their lifestyle and stop wasting so much food and materials. One of the reasons Hughes started Grow Calgary was because he was worried about his son, Mac, and the future that was being left for him.
“We can no longer ignore that we are throwing so much (food) away,” Hughes said.
As an urban farm located west of Canada Olympic Park just off the Trans-Canada Highway, Grow Calgary doesn’t receive any government funding and relies on Hughes and a group of volunteers to operate.
Plant seeds are mostly donated to Grow Calgary, which means the group only buys a small amount. According to Hughes, 95 per cent of everything at Grow Calgary — from the buildings to the seeds, has been donated or constructed from reclaimed materials destined for the landfill.
Using all donated and recycled material from places like Fountain Tire and Alberta Waste Recycling, Grow Calgary was able to create an entire building.
Hughes said there’s tons of land and green space around the city that would be perfect for growing food.
Grow Calgary launched a petition campaign called Mow2Grow and is pushing for organizations to be allowed to grow more fresh local food for Calgarians using vacant land owned by the city or the province. Hughes estimates there are 12,000 acres that are mowed and could be used for food production.
Grow Calgary currently uses 11 acres of land — a small space compared to what might be available around the city, Hughes said.
“Why are we spending so much money mowing grass (on public land) but we won’t spend money growing food?” asked Hughes.
The organization supplies food to many different agencies in Calgary including the Calgary Food Bank for the last three years.
“Grow Calgary plays an essential role in supplying the emergency system or food access with fresh produce to the (Calgary )Food Bank,” said Kristi Peters Snider, a consultant with the Office of Sustainability with the City of Calgary.
In 2012, city council endorsed a plan called Calgary Eats!, a food system assessment and action plan that serves to provide and manage food for needy Calgarians. According to the agency’s website, the plan is designed to evaluate and change rules and regulations as necessary, to make it easier for food producers to operate and expand.
The Calgary Eats! plan is currently focused on land regulations and bylaws. According to Peters Snider, this work needs to be done to remove barriers to scale up local food production, distribution and sales. The city is trying to look at things through a long-term lens.
“The vision adopted by council was to create a sustainable and resilient food system so that every Calgarian has access to local, healthy and environmental food,” said Peters Snider.
The city held two open houses Nov. 16 and 24 to promote Calgary’s local food system which Peters Snider called a “pulse check” on the plan.
At the two open houses, the city promoted updating land bylaws. The city is trying to achieve four primary objectives: create more opportunity for food production, support community and urban growers, expand commercial growing opportunities and increase access to healthy food access for Calgarians.
More than food
According to the Grow Calgary website, its mission statement says the program aspires to grow beyond food – they want people to make healthy food choices. Hughes also wants people to be more mindful of the materials and waste they’re using and creating.
The city does have some sorting stations that organize materials so they can be recycled but Hughes said he wants to see more around the city.
“(Grow Calgary) is an example of what we can build if we divert materials from a landfill,” said Hughes. “Why don’t we have more sorting stations?”
Recycling is a key mentality of Grow Calgary’s operations and Hughes believes with more sorting stations it could help to create jobs for Calgarians.