Tucked into the heart of Blood Alley, Gas Town Vancouver, sits a six story building that houses the Lu Ban Foundation.
A complete overhaul by the Lu Ban Foundation took a formally run down Single Occupant Residency building into a brand new fully self sustaining functioning sanctuary.
A walk through Blood Alley was once considered “taking a risk with ones life and limb,” but thanks to the work of the Lu Ban foundation, the newly transformed Blood Alley Square is every inch the promised haven it was toted a short four years ago.
Walking up the stairs leads you past an out door patio restaurant, “Charlies”, which offers an out door experience of the age old friends in the back yard bar kind of atmosphere, and food that is nothing short of drool worthy.
Up the stairs and past Charlies you are invited into the open air fresh food market that offers a view of the Alley art, which is transformed every year by street artists hired by the foundation.
Once inside the sanctuary you are invited to stare at an open air market affectionately called “the Seed”, in honor of the famed series The Hunger Games.
To your immediate left you are welcomed by Meticulous, a brand new Tattoo shop with a revolving door of Tattoo Artists who come from around the world and spend six months working with Tattoo hopefuls, adventurists and Apprentices.
Next comes the Glass Blowing Gallery, named “Burn”, in honor of the film “Hackers,” which is proudly honored with a series of glass life sized glass blown statues representing each of the principal characters of the film. A live studio behind, you guessed it, glass, gives the guests who visit the Sanctuary a chance to see Glass blowing in it’s purest form. Glass blowing glasses are offered to the public once a month if you are interested in learning this trans formative art form.
Next comes Potter’s Apothecary and Dispensary, you must be twenty one or older and present Identification before being allowed through the white swinging doors of this little heaven, but once there you will not be dissapointed.
With over seven hundred strains on display, (though not always for sale at the same time), you can find just about any weed for any occasion here. Not only do they sell natural remedies, including but nowhere near limited to marijuana, (and they are licensed) but their staff goes through a three year program before they are allowed to work with the public. Which interestingly includes working at Sanctuary Farms in Langley British Columbia.
All of the food grown at Sanctuary Farms feeds through to the restaurants at the Sanctuary in Vancouver, and employs over two hundred people.
Which is where it gets rather interesting, when we spoke with the rep from the Lu Ban Society, this is what they had to say:
“Those who work with Lu Ban, with the Patron Saint of Carpentry understand that he is very closely resembled in the story of Jesus, in a much more violent way. We chose Lu Ban, not because we don’t worship Jesus and the Holy Father, but because we very much wanted to be inclusive of our Chinese neighbors that inspire us so much. In Vancouver, the Chinese helped to build a lot of what we see standing today, they inspired us to believe that in order to continue the traditions of the past, we first must honor them.
So to do that, we provide a home for twenty-five at risk youth, we have teachers and single parent families who live on the farm. Their children go to school and follow a British Columbia approved curriculum. We are a society within a society that has learned to work together. Almost every person who works in the Vancouver Sanctuary has lived on the farm or worked with us in one of our education programs.
So if you live and work on the farm, you earn a percentage of everything we sell, it’s not much, but after a year many of our single parents have enough to apply for a home of their own, they stay on to teach others the process we have cultivated or move on to bigger and better things along their journey. We are sustainable because we choose to be.” ~ Avalyne Badis Cavanaugh, Executive Director of the Lu Ban Foundation
The “Farm”, as Cavanaugh calls it, is a collection of two hundred families who live in tiny homes, that they “work to own.” Each of the homes has enough room for three to four people, and stand in a circle around the property with a tenth of an acre between them allowing for an outdoor space for a yard. “The Big house”, is a three story Victorian home with ten single rooms, ten couples and two suites and is a working bed and breakfast.
“I didn’t change the sheets at my home, with my family, and here I am doing it for other people…it’s weird cause like where I come from my name made me a thing, but here I’m just a kid in tattoo’s doing tear down after a guest has checked out. It’s a weird place to be, and yet it’s…home.” – JB, student and staff member of “The Big House Bed and Breakfast.”
Yes you read that right, most of the staff at The Big House are former gang members who live on the property. They gain experience by working with the guests or in the kitchen, something JB says is his favorite, “I learned to cook while I was in Prison, and now I get to do that here and people actually like…keep coming back for my food. I get paid to do something I love and it’s called an art form.”
In honor of the last ten years the Big House is playing host to a special episode their version of Beat Bobby Flay, where the kids who live and work here will have the chance to compete against chef’s from around the country in a first time competition.
“I’m sort of excited about it, because it means that I can have the opportunity prove I’m better than JB,” laughs one of the staff who wished to remain anonymous, “but more than that, it’s a chance to show myself that like…I get to be a part of this, no matter what happens after that I get to be a part of this place…that has helped so many, its…I don’t know it’s just a weird feeling.”
I asked Cavanaugh about the “weird feeling,” that the students and staff continue to mention and she shrugged her shoulders. “That’s easy to understand, many of these kids have experienced trauma, we forget that they are still at least mentally children. No matter what the law says about what we should know or believe at a certain age, it doesn’t mean that our brains are going to agree.
We are delicate creatures, and our brain only accepts what we are willing to understand, to give us the best chance at survival. These people, our students, our community, including myself have experienced trauma, we’ve been through the s**#,” she says with laughter. “It feels strange to know that people who a year ago didn’t know you exist are coming here, not just to challenge you, but to prove they are better than you…they are coming here because THEY have something to prove, that’s the idea behind the festival,” Cavanaugh laughs.
“Put the Elders up against the students and see who comes out with the bragging rights,”, she says smiling, “it’s the final test for many of our students. We’ve been doing it for years, but this is the first year we’re opening it up to the public. It’s a chance for all of us to show what we’ve learned over the last five years as a community.”
The festival of which she speaks is the Harvest Festival, members of the public are invited to come and meet the famous chef’s from Jamie Oliver to Bobby Flay. There will be a cupcake competition, and members of Food Networks variety of Artist de Edibles will be on hand to judge or compete in the first ever Sanctuary Harvest Festival.
“It’s pretty amazing that we have so many famous people willing to help us when just a few months ago we were fighting to survive” Cavanaugh says with tears in her eyes. “We had to fight to explain that our Marijuana farm, which is licensed now is in the middle of nowhere BC, which we do not give directions to, is completely separate from this one.”
Cavanaugh explains that this is because so many of the people who live here are living sober now, they try to keep as little liquor on property as possible, “and weed consumption is strictly forbidden because of how many children live here with their parents. We want to inspire our chefs and our students to live in a world where they have to get used to that stuff, but this is a sanctuary away from the same medicines they used in the past. We’re teaching each other that the new medicine is working with the earth to create something special, be it a meal or an experience for our guests and at the end of the day, for ourselves. ”
Which is obvious when you walk through the gardens which mix African with Samoan and Chinese art and plants. “We have so many people here from so many countries of so many different cultures that we try hard to represent them within our gardens. So even if you’re visiting you can say “oh wow I know what that means,” they display a variety of art from over two hundred and fifty countries on the fifty acre property with plans to add more.
The Harvest Festival dates are October 21st to the 31st, and conclude with a fire works display at the far back of the public side of thirteen acres. “It’s pretty spectacular, our staff closes the doors for Halloween in Vancouver and they all stay on property.”
The Farm also provides private shuttle service for people between Langley and Vancouver six times a day both ways and public shuttles three times a day for a fee of ten dollars a pop which is a small price to pay for a day in Sanctuary.
Not only do they have standing art, but each of the hundred and fifty “tiny homes” that surround the property in what is “statistically speaking a perfectly imperfect crescent moon” are in a variety of sizes and designs.
“The people who live in them, designed them, they work for their family needs and they provide a healthy living environment that they are working to own.”
In comes the world of sustainability, once they own the homes they are free to then rent to own them to the next person who comes along. “It’s a never ending cycle, those who had nothing created something and share with the next person or family, that’s what Sanctuary was always meant to be about and it’s the proudest part of the Foundation’s initiatives.” David Allen Carter, who works with renowned Architect and Carpenter Jason Ford says.
“It’s probably the proudest part of the art collection, because it’s taken ten years to build all of these homes, and we still have more to go.”
Among other things the Foundation has planned, they are reserving space for a yearly Renascence festival that will provide “Roman style baths” and be completely interwoven with the farm. “The festival will take place at Christmas right after the Harvest festival and is the second largest event we do, but it’s also the most profitable. Not only are our artists provided a space to share their art, but we welcome artists from across the country to gather for the week long event. It’s a really neat way to meet other artists and artisans to see what they are learning and to show what we’ve learned.”
Education is one of the four tenants of the Foundation, along with Stability Community and Family. Sunday nights the farm closes down for a communal dinner that is held in the main building on the north side of the farm. “We even welcome our bed and breakfasts guests to join us, it’s the only way we’d see each other because everyone is so busy during the week.”
While the foundation does not have it’s own “church,” they do provide a multidimensional space on the east side of the property were staff, guests and students can gather to pray or celebrate together. “We don’t claim one God or Ideology, there’s too many of us for that, but the Sanctuary is open twenty four hours a day for people who need time to connect to their higher power.”
Barinder Dorate leads a weekly conversation about spirituality in which neighbors to the Sanctuary are welcome to come and sit in the hundred person sanctuary. “We’ve had a few weddings there, celebrated some births, it’s sort of a place that Langley has embraced which has been kind of nice.” JB says as he shows me around the property.
“We built this with our own hands,” he says pointing to the bamboo, glass and stone building, “we wanted to leave the roof open like in Vancouver, but after a few ice cold winters we learned,” he laughed talking as we walk into the building.
Built in the shape of a giant Tipi, you can gaze up to see the sky through the glass windows, in the center a giant fire pit stands burning away. “We call it the Forever Flame because we check it every day and every night to make sure it’s still burning. It’s supposed to represent the light in the dark, wherever you are on the property you can see the smoke being funneled through the pipes at the top. It’s supposed to be a reminder of The Church,” he says quietly as we sit on one of the thirty five benches hand made here on the property from naturally sourced Timber wood.
“Most of us started in The Church,” Avalyne Cavanaugh says, “we believed that because our families helped found Vancouver, we somehow were extra special, when in reality we were fed a lie. Sanctuary is our home away from that, from the pain of the past we have risen to create something great.”
You can read more about the Lu Ban Foundation in The Book.