The beautiful weather the past few months has afforded me with the opportunity to regularly walk to work. On my way I pass by the mass of parking lots beside Rogers Arena to and from the seawall. For years they have hosted little more than cars and concrete, but now a large area of it has been dedicated to S.O.L.E. Food, an urban agricultural venture from local organization, United We Can. The sight of rows of fruits, vegetables and flowers growing in such a dense urban setting provides an oasis of calm and beauty. Andrés Salas’s film, Seeds of the Inner City, which screened as part of Vancouver’s Latin American Film Festival, follows the beginnings of S.O.L.E. Food and the lives of the urban farmers involved in the project.
Our story begins in the early 90’s when Ken Lyotier, a binner who lives in the Downtown Eastside decided to start an organization that would improve the lives of those in his community. He started United We Can, and in 1995 opened the organizations first social enterprise, a bottle depot. The business, which services and employs residents from the Downtown Eastside, currently brings in 2.5 million a year in revenue. United We Can has since expanded into other ventures such as a bike shop and contracting out micro-cleaning services for the city. The most recent project, S.O.L.E. Food, began in 2009 and saw a parking lot on the 700 block of Hastings transformed into an urban garden. The project has since expanded into new areas, such as the garden beside Roger’s Arena, and has proven to be very successful.
Seeds of the Inner City is made up of a compilation of interviews, and we are given a real insiders perspective of the project. Although many of the original 12 workers were not around when the farm opened in May 2010 for a variety of reasons (only 3 of the original 12 remained), Salas takes the time for us to understand each worker and their stories.
The film brings audiences into the world of struggling and recovering addicts, and gives them a face. It is so simple for us to look past the details, however, Salas brings us down to the ground where we can see individual struggles. Early in the film we meet Keny, a worker in his late 30’s who sees the chance to work in the farm as a blessing. He enjoys the work, loves getting outside, and feels fulfilled to be active in his community. Keny has been struggling with addiction and health problems for years, but after several ups and downs requiring medical leave, he continues his commitment to the farm and remains a full time employee in 2012. The opportunity to have meaningful work and to give back to the community is the point of S.O.L.E. Food’s activities and we are shown proof of the profound effect it has on the lives of those involved. The program offers both tangible job skills, as well as spiritual benefits by creating additional purpose to the lives of those involved. Indeed, the whole community benefits, as S.O.L.E. Food sells its delicious produce at local farmers markets, giving Vancouverites a chance to support the project, and gain some healthy, locally produced food. I left the film feeling hopeful and happy to learn something more about the complicated social fiber that makes up Vancouver. Salas’s project is a work of love, and although the film suffered due to audio issues (some portions of speech were difficult to hear), overall, the story benefitted from its homegrown, low budget feeling. Seeds of the Inner City is a wonderful film that provides a nuanced look into this successful social enterprise that has touched the lives of many.