Meet Ian Lai, the Executive Director of the Richmond Food Security Society and a self-proclaimed bee fanatic. You’ll likely find Ian at one of four bee yards in Richmond donning his bee suit, checking his hives, and harvesting honey that he makes into mead or rose honey. A chef by trade, Ian is passionate about all aspects of food. Bees play a vital role in our ecosystem and 1/3 of our food requires pollination by hardworking bees, so it’s no wonder Ian is a fan of theirs!
We met up with Ian at Paulik Neighbourhood Park where one of Richmond’s bee yards is located; he was checking the health of the hives and making sure all was set for the fall. We had a chance to ask him a few questions—watch our video and read on to learn more.
Ian, what does a typical day in Richmond look like for you?
My day starts early around 7:00am and I spend the first two hours catching up and responding to emails. Meetings are held throughout the day with either team members, key partners, or collaborators. I look for opportunities to build new relationships within the community and attend related steering committees or advisory groups in the evening. I also spend time developing projects or reporting to funders throughout the week, but I always find time during the day to practice yoga. My role as an Executive Director is to build community capacity through education, advocacy, and outreach. On my off time, I enjoy rock climbing, cooking, biking, hiking, and spending time with my family and friends.
Richmond has a long history of farming; in fact, the city was built on farming and it is still going strong today with over 39% of the city within the Agricultural Land Reserve. You took us to the farm on the Garden City Lands today, can you tell us a bit about that?
The Garden City Lands is home to the Kwantlen Institute for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems. The farm is right in the heart of the city, and students investigate and support regional food systems as key elements of sustainable communities. Students get hands-on experience here and excess food is given to the Richmond Food Bank and sold at a farmer’s market. It really is great to see food systems education in Richmond reinforcing the city’s relationship with the land and farming.
Where is one of your favourite places to eat in Richmond?
There are so many amazing places to eat, it’s hard to choose. But I do enjoy Globe@YVR at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport. The view is so unique, you see the airport, and the mountains in the distance. They create dishes celebrating sustainable and locally sourced ingredients. Today, for example, we enjoyed the signature beer bread. It’s house made and comes with smoked ash butter, bee pollen butter, and local honey. It’s wonderful to see them using honey and pollen from local bees.
What do you like most about living Richmond?
I love living in Richmond because it is so close to nature. There are numerous parks that are within walking and biking distance. The proximity to the dyke trails and Steveston allows me to get out, breathe the fresh air and meet interesting people. I enjoy exploring the serenity of the farmlands and backroads, not knowing what gem I’ll find around the next corner. If I feel like something more metropolitan, the city centre offers all the amenities I need. There are numerous restaurants and food outlets and my palate is constantly stimulated. Our libraries, civic, heritage, and school system is also very cohesive and people are friendly and willing to help.
Richmond is a destination that offers authentic, Pacific experiences. What’s one Richmond experience that embodies that to you?
It would be an experience that incorporates nature and the food scene. I guess Steveston offers both of these things and includes the heritage piece to round it all out. The harbour, the dock sales, the heritage buildings that bookend the community, the boardwalks, the restaurants, the sunsets, the people watching—all contribute to an experience that is truly unique.
What should every visitor to Richmond do at least once?
Visitors should take every opportunity to engage with the community. Less is more. Come to Richmond and spend some time recharging, meet the people behind the scenes: the producers, the farmers, the store owners, and of course your local beekeeper! Get on a bike, walk the dyke, smell the fresh air, and eat, eat, eat.
Lastly, what advice would you give to a visitor in Richmond?
It’s not what you take away from your visit, but what you leave behind. Really get to meet us and leave a bit of your story, your spirit and your soul. Connect us with your inner community.