Holly Dumbarton, Project Manager of the Food Eco District, tells us all about FED, urban agriculture, and what’s on her plate.
Holly’s background, like many of us, is all over the place. She’s a world traveller (34 different countries and counting), she studied photojournalism briefly at UVic, she has a degree in Ecotourism and Outdoor Leadership, and she has been a restaurant manager. Holly moved back to Victoria from after graduating, knowing she wanted to be involved in sustainability, but without a clear picture of what position she might hold. She began volunteering with various organizations, including Synergy Entreprises (the parent organization of FED). When Synergy posted a position for Project Coordinator for the Food Eco District, it was a natural fit.
“It was perfect timing, a good fit, and good personality matches within the company.”
Why is downtown Victoria the Right place for FED?
“What brought (FED) downtown was the cluster of chef-driven restaurants focused on sustainability”
Why did FED decide to use the space at the Victoria Public Library for the Urban Learning Gardens?
The goal of the Urban Learning Gardens is to convert underutilized spaces into productive food growing areas or into outdoor classrooms. The area in the library was an unsightly space located in an easily accessible, central, and free location. It made for the perfect space for the garden.
“As urbanization increases, and people are on their devices more, human connection is being challenged, and mental health is at stake. A major focus of the learning garden in the coming years is placemaking—meaning creating an inclusive space for everyone from every culture to see a part of themselves. “
What inspires you most about your position at FED?
So many things! The team – an incredibly inspiring group of mostly women, we’re a tiny team who accomplishes a lot! We help each other out and collaborate all the time to make our projects better. Also, I love the diversity of my job. And being proud of what we do. And the creativity! As the first food eco-district in Canada, we don’t have a model to work off of, so we do a lot of problem-solving.
“We’re addressing this gap which I feel is really important: our food systems are broken so we need to start thinking about new ways to bring food into our lives.”
What’s the biggest challenge FED faces?
One of the big challenges is the landscape of downtown. For FED, we envisioned rooftop gardens all over the city and live walls everywhere! A lot of the downtown buildings don’t lend to that – I’m constantly amazed at the weight of soil, especially when it’s wet. The roofs can’t handle the weight. Also, many buildings have a ladder with a cage around them, so you can’t get materials up in the first place. In the next few years, we want to focus on helping developers have incentivized policies for urban agriculture projects.
Do you have any words of wisdom or advice to businesses wanting to focus on sustainability?
We have the Restaurant Certification Checklist that anyone can see. So you don’t necessarily have to be a FED member to know what to look for or where to focus to be greener. I think people get intimidated by the idea that it’s all or nothing, it’s the end of the world and climate change is coming! While I do believe it is important for people to get shocked into understanding the seriousness of the problem, if you instill too much fear, it paralyzes people. Then they feel like they can’t make a mistake for fear of judgment and it becomes a barrier to entry. We just want to be as supportive as possible.
“It’s okay to start small if you’re just getting into this, and we are here to help. This is such an amazing community of organizations and people. People just want to do good work. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to not know where to start. It’s okay to ask “silly” questions. It’s all to get us moving towards this collective vision.”
What’s coming up for FED?
The Bike ‘n’ Bites tours just started! (Read the DVBA blog about the tour)
We’re doing an edible streetscape along Blanshard Street between Johnson and Broughton. We’re going to install planters along the street. They are all going to be edible, and each one will be themed, for example, pollinator-friendly or native species. Each planter will have educational signage.
The FED summer party will be at the end of the summer! We will be at the Fort Commons and we’re doing a harvest party cook-off. We will reach out to farmers to get their “ugly” produce, and we will get a bunch of chef’s from FED members to come, present them with the same basket of produce. All of our FED members are diverse, so they will be able to bring their styles into this cooking competition. There will be music, a silent auction, and more!
We’re doing our fourth garden installation in September. It’s going to be our children’s garden and we’re doing an outdoor living room style idea. There’s going to be cool lounging chairs, an old TV with plants growing out of it, and a dresser with plants growing out of its drawers. We want to make it a place that draws people in, we’re going to have planters for the kids, and activities them.
“In the future, I would really like to focus on the placemaking piece in the Learning Gardens by starting to fill the space with activities that people can interact with.”