Member Highlight: Vancouver Urban Food Forest Foundation, Hastings Sunrise Community Food Network

by Dee Dee Nelson – VUFF Volunteer Coordinator

What is the Vancouver Urban Food Forest Foundation?

Vancouver Urban Food Forest Foundation, (VUFFF), is an inclusive, intergenerational, cross-cultural knowledge-sharing community and member of the Hastings Sunrise Community Food Network. Our physical sites are an Indigenous Food Forest, Chén̓chenstway Healing Garden, in Oxford Park and a Fieldhouse Community Activation Space in Burrard View Park that promotes gathering and mutual aid as a way to address social cohesion and food justice in our neighbourhood. Our Board of Directors and Co-Creator team include local urban Indigenous knowledge-sharers and diverse folks who represent our community.

VUFFF’s mission is to transform Vancouver’s neighbourhoods into the nourishing spaces we need them to be. We work to amplify and prioritize Indigenous ways of knowing and marginalized voices in our public parks and green spaces. We transform our environment through community knowledge-sharing, food forests and by creating hubs for mutual aid and exchange.

What is a food forest?

A food forest is a form of ancestral food growing and land stewardship used by Indigenous and Coast Salish Nations since time immemorial. It is also a term used in permaculture to describe a food production system modelled on woodland forest ecosystems and companion planting. It involves growing a succession of layers that are found naturally in forests. The food forests are integrated into social spaces where people from diverse backgrounds can co-learn together while honouring Indigenous and first-generation migrant plant knowledge. In addition to Chén̓chenstway Food Forest, we are planning a larger food forest in Burrard View Park coming up either at the end of this year or in early 2024.

In a food forest you will find the harmony of balance that is taught in the Indigenous Medicine Wheel. The food is a variety of berry bushes & shrubs, fruit & nut trees, flowers & herbs and leafy greens & root crops. Medicine is contained in the many parts of various plants to be used in salves and teas. Knowledge is gathered through all parts of the plants, their life cycles and their connections with all creatures. The lines become blurred between food and medicine. Food is medicine. The other type of medicine is spiritual medicine, using certain plants in ceremonial ways such as smudging and smoking.

It goes even deeper, as VUFFF Co-creator Lori Snyder details, “Every leaf is a solar panel, taking in the sun’s energy and transforming it into carbon beneath the soil to become food for the microorganisms that contribute to the massive and intertwined soil web of life.” Not only does this phenomenal process of nature feed the life beneath the soil’s surface, but it is also sequestering carbon, which contributes to the climate resilience of the planet. 

How does all of this fit into the City of Vancouver’s mandate to decolonize parks, work toward reconciliation (reconcili-action) and create climate and food system resilience?

VUFFF is co-led by local urban Indigenous knowledge-sharers Leona Brown, Victoria Buffalo Robe and Lori Snyder who along with other members of VUFFF, work together with the Vancouver Park Board to be sure that the actions necessary to create an environment that supports Indigenous perspectives are taking place. It is evident that organizations like VUFFF are playing an important role in bringing to life Vancouver Park Board’s Local Food System Action among various other policies the City of Vancouver has in place to support decolonization and food justice.

Who is involved?

VUFFF is all about community. Community includes our non-profit partners in the neighbourhood and beyond, plus all the folks we meet at our activities and events, and anyone we meet on the sidewalks and in the parks in the neighbourhood. We work closely with Kiwassa Neighbourhood House, Hastings Community Centre Food & Garden Programs, In Harmony with Nature, Aboriginal Mothers Centre Society, and many more. 

Victoria Buffalo Robe, Chéńchenstway Garden Steward hosts weekly garden work parties at the Food Forest and Healing Garden where anyone can go and join in. Everyone is invited to experience the beauty and the magic of a young food forest thriving in the midst of the urban landscape, lovingly cared for by enthusiastic members of the neighbourhood.

Every year in September we host Neighbourhood Food Week, a whole week of free events shining a light on the cultural significance of food and foodways passed down from generation to generation. People come together to learn and share about planting and growing food, land-based learning, cultural foodways, cooking, preserving and seed sharing. The greatest outcome of any of our events or gatherings is that people are getting together and sharing, talking and laughing, making deep connections with each other. This is what happens when food brings people together.

What are some things you are working on at the moment?

Keep an eye out for our next mini food forest to be planted this fall in the Hastings & Kamloops Pop-up Plaza! 

We also have exciting upcoming workshops and events at the Burrard View Park Fieldhouse.

We are starting to plan a “Street Team” for local community activation with the idea of being grounded in community and placemaking. It will be a way of connecting people and engaging neighbours. It might be through removing invasive plants to make space for wildflowers at a local greenway, postering, garbage cleanup, helping another community group or member with garden work or maybe raising awareness of the cool local initiatives there are around like the local bee hive garden or seed library on Wall Street. 

How can people get involved with VUFFF?

Please check out our website, facebook page and instagram profile for the latest news! Sign up for our monthly newsletter on our website to stay in the loop. Sign up to be a volunteer or member on our webiste, it’s quick and easy! We also have a Facebook group called the VUFFF Volunteer Village for volunteering with us or with our friends.

Stay in touch!