Urban Agriculture

Urban Agriculture (UA) is not only an environmental initiative but also an act of community revitalization and collective efficacy, it is “not just about food; it is first, and foremost about people and their relationship to their food and to their environment” (Thibert 2012). Dramatic urbanization has forced people to purchase imported foods (where available) that are often nutrient-poor and expensive. UA is emerging as a push for social cohesion and collective efficacy in communities. Consumers are becoming more aware of where their food comes from and hope to decrease their carbon footprint by reducing the distance that their food travels to reach their dinner plate. This level of awareness allows people to take ownership of their source of nutrition and their health, and to re-appropriate urban space that had previously been lost to concrete. Urban Agriculture activities can manifest themselves in the form of individual, collective and community gardens, as well as industrial scale urban and peri-urban farms.

The Urban Agricultural Landscape of Montreal: A Growing Movement

Today in Montreal, UA is beginning to progress above the marginal sphere of city planning, and is emerging with strength rooted in community values and re-appropriation of urban space. Located on what was once important agriculturally productive land, the Island of Montreal has been seeing a re-emergence of agriculture within the city limits, and a collective mobilisation towards imaginative merging of urban and agricultural mentalities and practices. This resurgence of an old concept (urban agriculture development began in Montreal in the 1970′s) is exemplified by the current consultation on “The State of Urban Agriculture in Montreal” (Fairholm 1998). This public consultation is the result of a democratic tool called by the “Right of Initiative”, where a citywide consultation must be held if 15,000 signatures are collected in support of it. By November 7th, 2011, nearly 30,000 signatures had been collected. There has been a significant amount of mobilization and consolidation of initiatives leading up to this consultation, and much more is expected to come from it.

Unfortunately, due to UA’s rapid resurgence as well as the variety of metrics and models used to assess UA, the growth of the movement in Montreal is very difficult to quantify, and thus difficult to compare with other cities. Dr. Éric Duchemin explained that “‘Statistics and research into urban agriculture are few and far between … a lot of people  and companies are now doing urban agriculture projects, but we don’t really have a lot of numbers about them’” (Beaudin 2012).  Duchemin is currently working to address this lack of data about UA through his work with CRAPAUD, a research collective on UA in Montreal. According to him, there are currently about 250,000 m2 of land on the island currently being used for agriculture, and the existing initiatives on the island produce an estimated $1.25 million dollars in fruits and vegetables per year (Beaudin 2012). The city of Montreal is also renowned for its community garden program, and has a strong history of citizen participation on Urban Agriculture.  The McGill School of Architecture’s Minimum Cost Housing Group wrote a really comprehensive report on Montreal’s Community Gardens Program.

Montreal’s Urban Agriculture Initiatives at a Glance

Because of the complex and context-specific nature of UA metrics, we focused our audit on collecting individual testimonials from important actors in the movement about the challenges, lessons learned and barriers to UA in Montreal. We diverted from the focus on community gardens, where much of the attention and literature has been focused in the past, and tried to collect accounts from a few individuals involved with initiatives that were truly breaking new ground with respect to UA in the city.

Perceptions surrounding UA in Montreal are beginning to shift as the potential spaces and diverse benefits are being recognized. While UA is often associated with leisure, education, community, and neighbourhood revitalization, the diverse environmental benefits are also beginning to gain recognition. These holistic aspects of UA are highlighted in the mission statements of the major actors in the UA movement in Montreal. Initiatives are often grassroots projects supported by government or other funding, and sometimes for-profit entities. Many prosperous UA groups are located in Montreal and work to provide the Montreal community with knowledge, skills and abilities to either purchase, grow their own local produce.

Major Difficulties of implementing Urban Ag in Montreal

  • The lack of appropriate zoning bylaws and cultural stigmatisms toward the potential rural-urban mix in a city
  • Balancing the aims of providing learning opportunities with goals of productivity creates tradeoffs within an organization
  • Satisfying the demandfor volunteers and disseminating knowledge and skills can decrease the amount of overall productivity of the garden due to a high volunteer turnover rate
    • This is a major challenge for Santropol Roulant, as there is a lot of demand for volunteer opportunities in the garden, but also a demand for produce for the Fresh Baskets and in the kitchen
  • Limited space: there is a lot of pressure from major development projects,
  • Contaminated soilsin urban areas are a widespread problem for UA
    • These soils can be rehabilitated through different mechanisms, though this can take knowledge and financial means
  • Finding the balance between ‘free for all’ and over-regulated
  • Too many regulations (eg. mandating a perimeter fence around a garden and regulating its height) can limit access to UA practices as it can create financial barriers to undertaking projects
  • On the contrary, a ‘free for all’ is not ideal either, because it lacks structure and guidelines that can be helpful for initiatives
  • Lack of available funding for small grassroots programs, and rent seeking is a costly activity, which small entrepreneurs are often unable to take on

Lessons Learned by Urban Ag People in Montreal

  • There is no single model for urban agriculture
    • There is a place for collective, community, personal and industrial gardens alike, as this variety of initiatives fills different niches and roles, and requires different support and resources
  • UA is multi-faceted and multi-functional, and encompasses more than just how to produce food.
    • It is also about food security, social sustainability, equity, and how to incorporate these concepts into the ways that neighborhoods, boroughs and cities are designed
  • Avenues and mechanisms need to be created to facilitate skill and knowledge transfer between individuals and groups.
    • Tricks and knowledge are being lost all of the time as initiatives die and people move on to other things; there needs to be a way to disseminate knowledge at a local, neighbourhood or even national level
  • Community members will not always accept for-profit UA initiatives
    • Why do environmentally friendly businesses have to be non-profit?

Barriers to Sustainability in Montreal

  1. Closed and narrow mindedness
    1. Governments, the ministry, or individual actors can get in the way of many UA projects, but UA can manifest itself in a city if there is room for imaginative planning
  2. Lack of support
    1. Initiatives that lack support are led on a volunteer basis, and so they die when these individuals move on to other things. If more support and recognition were given to these efforts, initiatives would be able to better sustain themselves.

The following initiatives represent just a few of the success stories that we chose to highlight.

Santropol Roulant’s mission is to provide equitable access to local, healthy food through its production and preparation. They have two urban gardens, the Edible Campus Garden on McGill campus, as well as their rooftop garden located on top of their location at 111 Roy Street. The produce is used in the kitchen, sold at different markets, and sold through their Fresh Basket program, and is available to the general public and clients.

The Summer School on Urban Agriculture is a weeklong training in August that happens every year at UQÀM. The program provides both a theoretical and practical approach to urban agriculture, where participants learn not just how to carry out projects, but how to implement principles of UA and make holistic plans at the neighborhood, borough or city scale. Éric Duchemin, also a member of CRAPAUD spoke to us on behalf of the school

Urban Seedlings is a family-owned, for-profit business, which aims to spread the residential gardening movement in Montreal. The business provides an interactive website with information and resources for new gardeners. The owners offer garden consultation services for households who wish to build their own private urban garden.

Lufa Farms is a great example of a for-profit greenhouse located on the roof of a Montreal building. Lufa seeks to provide urban dwellers with fresh, nutritious, and pesticide-free local produce. Customers can subscribe to a produce basket and pick it up at one of Lufa’s pickup destinations on the island.

The P3 Permaculture Design mandate is to help design permaculture sites and to facilitate education and awareness regarding permaculture practices. The organization develops community relationships and fosters networks for positive change in neighbourhoods.

A multitude of Metrics Used to Asses Urban Agriculture

There are a number of ways to measure the feasibility, productivity, and sustainability of urban agriculture. Choosing a set of metrics is often very specific to the climatic and socio-economic context, as well as the objectives of a particular project. Some of these include:

  • Number of jobs created by urban agriculture initiatives
  • Percentage of dollar value of all crops grown in the region produced within city limits
  • What percentage (by weight) of crops consumed are produced within city limits
  • Percentage of population involved with urban agriculture initiatives, and their demographics
  • Total output by weight
  • Percentage of land used for agriculture
  • Number of crop varieties grown within the city
  • Health and nutrition of residents (calories consumed, mg of particular nutrients, etc.)
  • Relative nutrient density of foods consumed within the city
  • Percentage of household income spent on food
  • Dependence on food aid
  • Improvements in microclimates in areas served by urban agriculture projects
  • Increased biodiversity in areas served by urban agriculture projects
  • Monetary audits: are projects financially self-sufficient?
  • Soil health and productivity studies
  • Water sources and use
  • Energy sources and input

Further Useful Information

Additional Useful Sources

Agriurbain – Website, UA in Montreal – Réseau Francophone — reflections on urban and peri-urban agriculture — created by CRAPAUD (see above table)

Agriculture Urbaine – Website, UA in Montreal – Portal with comprehensive database of UA initiatives in Montreal, designed and realized by Éric Duchemin and the CRAPAUD research collective.

Voir Vert – Article, UA in Montreal – Outlines some of the more prominent UA initiatives on Montreal island

Office of Public Consultation of Montreal – Article, public consultation – Video and short article

EnviroMontreal – Article, public consultation

Goldstein et al., Turner Environmental Law Clinic – Report, UA in American cities – Survey comparing data from different US cities

CRAPAUD – Sources, public consultation – list of articles and summary of the Right of Initiative leading up to the consultation

La semaine verte: Urban Agriculture – Video, UA in Montreal, Toronto and Detroit – in French

ENVR 401 project: Soil Contamination and UA – Report – A practical guide to soil contimination issues for individuals and groups in the Montreal context

Cheema, G.S., Smit, J., Ratta, A., Nasr, J., United Nations Development Program & Urban Agriculture Network. (1996). Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs, and Sustainable Cities. New York, NY: UNDP. – Published by the UNDP in 1996, provides insight into the emergence of the UA movement worldwide

Mougeot, L. J. A., & International Development Research Centre (Canada). (2006). Growing better cities: Urban agriculture for sustainable development. Ottawa: International Development Research Centre. – reviews history and research efforts on UA and how they can be utilized to promote UA

Bhatt, V.C., Kongshaug, R., & McGill University. (2005). EL 1: Making the edible landscape: a study of urban agriculture in Montreal. Montreal Minimum Cost Housing Group, School of Architecture, McGill University. – Report examining the UA initiatives being carried out in Montreal


Beaudin M. 2012. Urban agriculture takes root in Montreal. In: The Gazette [Internet]. [cited 2012 June 1]. Avail. from: http://www.montrealgazette.com/health/Urban+agriculture+takes+root+Montreal/6400616/story.html
Duchemin E, Wegmuller F, Legault A-M. Agriculture urbaine : un outil multidimensionnel pour le développement des quartiers. VertigO – la revue électronique en sciences de l’environnement [En ligne], 10 (2):  septembre 2010, mis en ligne le 24 septembre 2010, Consulté le 30 mai 2012. URL : http://vertigo.revues.org/10436 ; DOI : 10.4000/vertigo.10436
Fairholm J. 1998. Urban Agriculture and Food Security in Canada: A Survey of Canadian non-Governmental Organizations. Cities Feeding Peope Series: Report 25. LifeCycles Project Societyy. IRDC. URL: http://lifecyclesproject.ca/resources/downloads/food_security_survey.pdf
Thibert, Joel. 2012. Making Local Planning Work for Urban Agriculture in the North American Context: A View from the Ground. Journal of Planning Education and Research.

1 Response to Urban Agriculture

  1. I think you should watch the documentary NEW FARMS, BIG SUCCESS with Jean-Martin Fortier
    and Lufa farms:

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