North America's largest urban orchard opened right in the heart of Vancouver today, on a site once occupied by a gas station.

The land was leased to SOLEfood Street Farms from the City of Vancouver for $1 a year.

"These trees at their peak will be ...15, 20, 25 feet high. They create an incredible habitat once they've been developed." —Michael Ableman

The partnership has turned the city-owned lot near the Pacific Central train station into an urban green space where nearly 500 trees have been planted in raised boxes.

The orchard will feature apple, pear, cherry, plum, fig, persimmon, and lemon trees, and as many as 60 different culinary herbs.

"This is essentially taking agricultural instincts and applying it to the city," said SOLEfood co-founder Michael Ableman.

"This is a production model, and it's designed to produce production quantities of food and jobs, two of our primary goals."

The orchard, located on the southeast corner of Main Street and Terminal Avenue, is now one of four sites SOLEfood operates in the city.

Ableman and his team spent a couple months cleaning up the site, which has remained empty for more than a decade because of soil contamination.

Ableman, who is a farmer and advocate for sustainable agriculture, says the orchard is very different from SOLEfood's other sites that largely focus on vegetables.

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Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson and SOLEfood co-founder Michael Ableman do some planting in the urban orchard on Sunday.

"A perennial tree crop system for an urban environment is in many ways more sensible than vegetable production," he said.

"It takes advantage of vertical space. These trees at their peak will be, some of them, 15, 20, 25 feet high, if we let them go that high. And as you know, lateral space is  very valuable here. They create an incredible habitat once they've been developed."

The trees have also been planted in specially designed boxes that can be removed quickly and easily by forklifts and relocated to another site, if necessary.

SOLEfood Street Farms, a Vancouver-based social enterprise, currently employs 25 people mostly from the Downtown Eastside and many of whom struggle with mental illness, addiction and poverty.

SOLEfood produced over 30 tonnes of food last year and is projecting to double that amount this year.