Paul Hughes and I don’t always see eye to eye on issues. He trends a little more towards the hippy sort and has more of an environmentalist streak in him than I. I can’t help but admire how Paul doesn’t just bitch about things or ask others to fix things. When Hughes wants an issue addressed he literally gets his hands dirty and works on it. Paul doesn’t ask, he just does.
Paul Hughes is probably best known for his advocating for urban chickens in Calgary and his past run for Mayor. He has always been quite focused on domestic food supply. Food is indeed a need for us all.
We all would be better off if more folks took on that kind of attitude.
A few days ago, I found myself driving into West Calgary on Highway 1 when I passed the Grow Calgary site.
A few years ago, Hughes set up shop on a few acres of vacant city land and began Grow Calgary. This lot is just West of Canada Olympic Park. The land will eventually be developed for the Calgary portion of the Ring Road but as we all know, that may still be over a decade away. In the meantime, the land has languished vacant, weed filled and of little purpose. Why not bring the land into production for the time being? It is a pretty unique venture.
My timing was lucky. I saw perhaps a couple dozen folks working with shovels digging up a potato plot as I drove by which caught my interest and spurred my impulse visit. Paul was with them and they were just about to break for lunch leaving Paul free to give me a tour of the area.
One of my first questions to Paul was to ask who all those people were. It turns out that they were a group of volunteers from Crescent Point Energy. It turns out that Hughes has attracted corporate sponsorship from multiple companies that doesn’t just translate into funds, but into manpower. Different corporate and student groups have volunteered time all year to help develop the urban farm. A healthy day out for the volunteers and invaluable service for the project.
Grow Calgary isn’t a charity and isn’t taking tax dollars. It is reliant on donors and volunteers. It appears that the base of both are growing.
The site looks pretty and eclectic as you wander between what appear to be random plots growing everything from sunflowers to tomatoes to hemp. To a libertarian like me seeing a little chaos is not a problem and in looking closer one can see that there is more planning to the setup than meets the eye. Water is limited and this year’s drought had a rough impact on the farm. Plots were chosen based on potential irrigation and access.
Small greenhouses have been constructed which are quite effective. These were built with completely recycled and donated materials and yes, it shows.
Opponents to Grow Calgary often cite aesthetics in order to demand that this venture be halted. Do we want pretty or do we want effective? Do we want to truly recycle items as Hughes has done or do we simply want to green wash with giant fabricated plastic buildings that will claim to have used some tiny degree of recycled materials? Everything Paul used here was donated and it all would have ended up in a landfill had he not made use of it. The greenhouses are in the center of the area and don’t look bad anyway. As can be seen in this picture, they are loaded with great tomatoes even this late into a dry season.
Paul also constructed what he calls an “earthship”, More hippy stuff but still some effective and interesting engineering.
Using all donated materials including wood, glass, tires, concrete and cans Paul has created a year round growing facility that uses no power. He excitedly showed me his charts as he had tracked the ambient temperature within the structure all winter. The lowest he ever recorded was just above freezing on a day in January when the outside temperature was likely well into the -20s. Not bad for a spot that uses no outside power sources.
The central area houses donated porta-potties along with a few structures that are used for everything from secure storage to a small hydroponic growing system. Donors have been so generous that Hughes has gardening and farm implements stacked and stored in every nook and cranny. Waste is not accepted so I expect that everything will be used in time including a monstrous pile of compost that was donated. It is hard not to be impressed by how much equipment and material has been built up through such a modest project. Security services have been donated by a local company as well. People really do like pitching in on this one.
While the drought reduced crops, there still was a very impressive harvest of fresh produce that has all been donated to various societies in need throughout the city.
This is the sort of thing that can happen when people such as Paul Hughes along with many many helpers say to hell with government bureaucracy and simply work to get the damn job done. The city has been pulled along grudgingly with this venture at best and established food charities have been rather cold as Hughes is producing massive amounts of product without having a giant administration and hand in the taxpayer cookie jar as they do.
Using excuses such as the appearance of the place all the way to liability issues I am sure that the busybodies in Calgary City Hall will work their hardest to shut Grow Calgary down. There are few things parasitic bureaucrats despise more than successful operations existing without their constant and heavy handed oversight. It exposes their uselessness. Paul is pretty determined though and is only setting his roots deeper. I suspect that Grow Calgary isn’t going anywhere soon.
Eventually, the city will develop that land and Grow Calgary will have to move from that site. This is reasonable and such is life. What is to be hoped though is that some lessons have been learned. There will be all sorts of unused city land all over the place at that time. There always is. I see no reason why Grow Calgary wont be able to move in and produce food for those in need on those new locations when the time comes. I mean, why the hell not?
Taxpayers are more than tired of grossly expensive and ineffective government initiatives to ease poverty. Donors to charities are tired of reading how the majority of their donations end up eaten by administrative costs as the bureaucratic worms dine on the bulk of the funds before the people in need see even a nickle of the donated resources. Grow Calgary has bypassed all of that crap. It is run with the most minuscule of administration and directly uses all volunteer time, items and dollars for the production of food. Efficiency is critical.
For folks who want to donate some time or resources, I can’t endorse this venture more strongly.
The site is Grow Calgary.
They get things done.
I too have been out there and it looks disorganized but they are getting things done. Since meeting Paul and getting a tour of Grow Calgary from him I have spoke to a builder about tiny houses. I would love to help end homelessness by working with builders and volunteers about building tiny houses and getting land from the city to help. I have many ideas, but the biggest problem will be the red tape and the city stopping the project from moving forward.