A survey conducted last year by the City of Montreal revealed that 42% of citizens practice urban agriculture. More than simply gardening, urban agriculture is a social movement that can service as an educational tool and means of achieving food justice. It was with these ideas in mind that some 200 citizens and researchers participated in the 6th Montreal Urban Agriculture Summer School on that began on Monday, August 18.
Created in 2009 to respond to a need for training – theoretical and practical – and to allow urban farmers from all walks of life to exchange knowledge, the Montreal Urban Agriculture Summer School has become a model of popular education that now wants to inspire other institutions elsewhere in the world. Indeed, Montreal is “ahead” in this area, assures the School’s co-founder Éric Duchemin, who coordinates the event with Jean-Philippe Vermette.
At the beginning of the summer season, Éric Duchemin, associate professor at the Institute of Environmental Science at the University of Quebec in Montreal, was in Paris to co-organize workshops on urban agriculture and biodiversity that were held for the first time. It was only last year that France saw its first similar events with the Strasbourg Urban Agriculture School, which was more like a “research symposium” says Duchemin, having participated in the event’s organizational committee.
The Parisian workshops are likely to be held again next year, following their success this past June. And in the coming years, Marseille, Brussels, Liège, Toronto, and Portland will set up summer schools on urban agriculture inspired by the concept behind the Montreal event.
In light of this “worldwide craze” for education and training about urban agriculture, the creation of networks is a must so that the schools complement each other rather than competing with each other, explains Duchemin. In Quebec City, Laval University also offers a summer course on the subject in the middle of July. “I was at the conference [in Quebec City]. There was a lot of discussion about how we could network, but also do complementary things. Laval University has a department of Agricultural Science, and it would be interesting for them to be directed by agronomic questions, something that we do not do at UQAM. We are very much interested in “urban development,” and more focused on the human science aspects [of urban agriculture].”
“Montreal is very dynamic. There is awareness and thought about urban agriculture, and about the link between agriculture and urban development that is greater than elsewhere,” he adds while explaining that it was after coming to the Montreal Summer School that professors from the University of Portland and the Ryerson University in Toronto decided to create similar schools in their respective cities.
For urban agriculture enthusiasts who are eager for new knowledge and techniques to develop, there are plenty available. Ranging from the citizen who wants to maximize his vegetable crop on his balcony, to the teacher who wants to make use of gardening as an educational tool, the participants come from all walks of life. Some of them register for the training sessions several years in advance. Some who participated in the Paris workshops – people from Quebec and France – were present at the Montreal events. This is why it is important that each institution develops their strength and that the Montreal sessions, with more than 200 participants and 80 instructors, “renew itself” year after year.
The Summer School is an opportunity for each participant to increase his or her knowledge about urban agriculture, but also to collectively think about the development of this type of agriculture. The week at UQAM fittingly opened with a conference on food self-sufficiency in urban environments. A utopian concept? “Is urban food self-sufficiency, or some form of autonomy, a realization of the needs of urban environments?” asks Éric Duchemin. Especially considering that in his eyes, the main issue is food justice. “I always think of this: in Montreal, there are people who go hungry. [...] Urban agriculture is aimed towards these people, among others. When we speak of self-sufficiency, that means production, but also processing, distribution, and bringing food to the market.”
He cites the example of production surpluses at the city’s community gardens, where a part of the surplus ends up as compost. In Montreal it is estimated that there is a 30% rate of direct loss in the field. Poor organization of cultivated land, laziness or lack of information about product processing and the absence of structures for redistribution could be the cause. “What can we do to collect these foodstuffs and send them where they are going to be useful for food justice?” This is one of the objectives the Summer School is reflecting about.
And finally, it is citizens and local authorities who must advance the different questions surrounding urban agriculture. “I think that in Montreal, we have reached a step where it is necessary to let go of the community and collective garden models and think about initiatives like urban orchards, or to include small farm animals,” says the professor, who believes that it is important “to find other formulas that allow for greater citizen participation in the urban agriculture movement.”
Are you familiar with emerging concepts such as urban food forests? Does it seem likely that more communities will adopt such practices to grow food?
Original article, originally published in French, here.
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