photos: "Digging in the soil 
is therapeutic," Lyle says. Photo: Jenn McDermid

Growing into ourselves at Sole Food

Lyle plants seeds of change in Vancouver's urban gardens.

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In 2010, Michael Ableman and Sean Dory started working on Sole Food, a project aimed at transforming Vancouver’s dreary urban landscape. Their goal: convert unoccupied city spaces into lush sustainable farms while employing residents of the Downtown Eastside.

Their efforts paid off. Today, Sole Food 
is growing at an unprecedented rate. The organization occupies four previously vacant lots across Vancouver, it employs 25 individuals, and supplies nearby restaurants and markets with quality produce.

Sole Food also offers job opportunities and agricultural training to homeless and low-income individuals in a supportive, community-oriented setting.

Lyle is one of Sole Food’s longest-standing employees. He credits the project with keeping him “on track.” After overcoming several personal obstacles, Lyle became aware of the program through Dory, Sole Food’s founder. “I was moving into my building at Main and Terminal and was just getting out of Onsite,” Lyle recalls. “I spent four months there for heroin addiction, and met Sean [Dory] through that. Since then, I haven’t looked back.”

Lyle works at all four Sole Food locations. He participates in a variety of duties around the garden including seeding, composting, shoveling and watering. His favourite tasks are harvesting and planting.

“It’s exciting: when you are first planting food there is nothing, and then all of a sudden there is a little sprout, and then before you know it you’re harvesting the food that you just planted,” Lyle says. “I think the plant knows the person who is planting, and you get a good yield if you’re a good person, and a bad yield if you’re a bad person.”

The healing nature of gardening, he adds, has been a central part of his recovery.
“I actually found that digging in the soil 
is therapeutic, the smell and feel of the earth enters your sensory system and just makes everything better,” he says.

Since  beginning the program, Lyle believes that he is finally doing what he was meant to do. “I love it. It motivates me every day.”

Beyond the garden, Lyle appreciates the committed support system he has found 
at Sole Food. The community there, he says, has given him the confidence to move forward with other aspects of his life.

“I think that [Sole Foods] provides people with the opportunity to get back into socializing. This is a good way to get to know people in your community and to socialize. If you feel uncomfortable, you know you’re among friends and coworkers,” he says. “It makes it a lot easier to start integrating with society, because you’ve got friends around. We’re all in the same boat, we kind of stick together and watch each other’s backs, too.”

Of Sole Food’s model for creating inclusive, accessible employment opportunities, “I think it shows possibility,” Lyle says. He adds that Sole Food has been successful in connecting Downtown Eastside community members with other parts of the city.

Lyle is hopeful that more people will become involved with the project as it continues to grow.

“Sole Food helps people help themselves,” he says. “I think as long as you show 
some kind of initiative and are a bit humble, it can be awesome.”

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