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Downtown Victoria eateries on an eco mission

What started last summer as a planter-box garden in a quiet courtyard behind the corner of Fort and Blanshard streets is blossoming into a sustainable food project.
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Alesha Davies of AJ's Organic Cafe and Thomas Dosil of Chorizo and Co. at the Fort Common, where restaurants and foodies will officially launch the Food Eco District Thursday evening.

What started last summer as a planter-box garden in a quiet courtyard behind the corner of Fort and Blanshard streets is blossoming into a sustainable food project.

The Food Eco District (FED), which took root at Fort Common behind restaurants such as Chorizo & Co. and Be Love, has grown to include 10 restaurants with designs on encompassing a big stretch of the core.

“The idea is to create a downtown district that celebrates food and sustainability by showcasing restaurants that have committed to reduce their environmental footprint and creating vibrant community spaces in the district,” said Heidi Grantner, FED’s project coordinator.

FED is the neighbourhood defined by Johnson Street to the north, Broughton to the south, Quadra to the east and Douglas to the west.

The district hopes to work with restaurants, cafes and businesses within the borders to reduce their environmental footprint by linking firms to the Vancouver Island Green Business Certification program. It also aims to connect restaurants with local ingredients, push urban gardening and establish more community space.

FED gets a kickstart tonight with a sold-out launch party at Fort Common that will feature food and drink from local producers.

Fort Common, a courtyard with bistro tables and chairs, trees, lights and the mobile culinary gardens, was the first community space established. But since then, there have been planters added at The Village restaurant (a satellite member of FED) in Estevan Village in Oak Bay and work has begun on an urban agricultural project at the Atrium building on Yates Street.

There are now eight restaurants within FED — AJ’s Organic Cafe, Be Love, Chorizo & Co., Discovery Coffee, Fish Hook, Zambri’s, Habit and the Yates Street Taphouse. Two others — Big Wheel Burger and The Village — are considered satellite members.

Grantner said while they have some high-profile members dotting the map around Fort and Blanshard, the goal is to fill in the gaps.

“We want to get everyone who lives, works and plays in this neighbourhood to start to identify this area with food and sustainability, so over the next few months we will be hitting the pavement to get more of the restaurants on board,” she said.

Jesse Margolus, who is in charge of member outreach for FED, said in the immediate area they have a head start as there are several restaurants already working with a mind on their environmental footprint.

“We are lucky to have some very progressive restaurants in this district. . . . They are sourcing food locally and they are keen to improve their environmental [performance],” he said.

Restaurants and businesses getting involved in the program pay $500, half of which pays for their green certification process, while the other half can be paid in gift cards that will be used by FED for marketing.

Margolus stressed they want to make it accessible and easy.

“We want to encourage as many of them to get involved as possible,” he said, noting it’s not hard to get into step with green initiatives. “And we are here to help.”

By that he means helping them find energy efficiencies in their businesses or starting new projects like establishing urban gardens.

“We are hoping the sense of community will get [people] behind this, a collective action working together to create a vibrant district,” said Grantner.

The other drive is to attract more people to the area, putting bums in seats and cash in registers.

Grantner said the hope is FED will be an attraction, and an identifiable brand that will appeal to both tourists and locals.

aduffy@timescolonist.com