On Becoming the “F-Word” – Vanessa’s Journey into Urban Farming

Nearly two years ago, when I first sat down with Vanessa Hanel, an emerging urban farmer in Calgary, she hesitated to call herself what she referred to as “the F-word”. Today Vanessa is getting ready to take on farming, full time, as the owner and grower behind Micro YYC, a micro-greens operation in Calgary that “specializes in small”.

For over four years now, I’ve been following Vanessa’s transition into farming with admiration.

In early 2011, we became fast friends over multiple mint mojitos in Cuba, where we met on an organic farm tour. Cuba hooked us, almost instantaneously. Inspired by the organiponicos (urban agriculture sites) we saw and the passionate Cuban farmers we met, Vanessa and I both returned, only months later, to participate in a 7-week permaculture internship with The Urban Farmer and Foundation for Nature & Humanity. Interestingly enough, we were a part of a team of interns made up of only Canadian women that year.

Digging in the Cuban soil together (and subsequently watching a tropical downpour, in the breadth of an hour, wash away our labour) solidified our friendship and mutual passion for farming.

In early 2014, I interviewed Vanessa for my book as she was just about to dive into her first season as a farmer with seed plus soil, an urban farming operation in Calgary. She was a true “greenhorn”, but determined to give farming a go — part-time, anyways.

After her first season, Vanessa struck out to forge her own farming path in Calgary.

Micros watered and happy [tomatoes too] #microgreens #notmicrogreens #yyc #yycfood #gardening #growyourown

A photo posted by Micro YYC (@microyyc) on

In early 2015, she dreamt up Micro YYC and began experimenting with a variety of niche shoots (basil, cabbage, kale and chervil – to name just a few) in her basement. Vanessa invested in grow lights, shelves and trays and got to work, seeding, watering, harvesting and packaging her greens. Today she sells around 200 units/week to Gull Valley Greenhouse, who then sells her spicy and mild mixes at the Calgary Farmer’s Market. She also supplies two restaurants in Calgary, including Taste, a neighbourhood kitchen and lounge.

Today Vanessa’s confidence as an urban farmer is growing. She no longer hesitates to call herself a “farmer” nor a business owner. Vanessa is one of the only female urban farmers to grow and sell food commercially in Calgary, especially as the sole-farmer and sole-owner of Micro YYC.

She’s definitely a woman to watch and an inspiring urban farmer who will continue to help shape Calgary’s urban agriculture movement in the years to come.

In November 2015, be sure to watch for my full-length feature article with GUTS Magazine that will profile Vanessa, along with two other inspiring female urban farmers and their work in Western Canada.

Until then, be sure to follow Micro YYC on Instagram and Twitter – @microyyc