SoleFood Farm Inc.

Michael Abelman, SoleFood Farm | BCBusiness
SoleFood co-funder Michael Abelman.

Congratulations to SoleFood Farm, 2013’s #11 Most Innovative Company in B.C.

Anyone who can figure out a way to coax edible vegetables from the ground in South Central L.A. has got be onto something innovative. Michael Abelman certainly was when he began cultivating urban soils in that city back in the 1980s.

Now an 11-year veteran of B.C., Saltspring Island-based Abelman, co-founder and co-director of SoleFood Farm Inc., has developed the means to take urban farms well beyond small gardens common in urban horticulture to a point where sales revenue can fuel future growth.

He faced three key challenges: how to grow on paved land, how to grow on contaminated land and how to grow on land only available for short-term lease. Abelman’s response was to isolate a growing medium that is both off the ground and movable in collapsible boxes that are easily hoisted by forklift onto standard shipping palettes. He then devised methods for growing densely, using a special seeding tool, and vertically through drilled PVC pipes.

In 2009, he co-founded the charity Cultivate Canada Society, which provides job skills training and work for hard-to-employ individuals, including many residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Cultivate Canada wholly owns SoleFood Farm Inc. and Abelman says that SoleFood exists expressly to fulfill the charity’s mission.

In 2009, its first year, SoleFood turned out 4,500 kilograms of produce. Last year it produced almost 15,000 kilograms, and it now sells to more than 30 restaurants. For its urban-agricultural model, in 2012 SoleFood snagged a Real Estate Foundation Land Award and the Canadian Urban Institute’s Brownie Award, which recognizes leadership, innovation and environmental sustainability in the brownfields redevelopment across Canada.

But Abelman isn’t hanging up his hat yet. “I’m not claiming victory or success here. This is a process; it’s ongoing. I don’t think you ever actually get there in this work.”