If you live in an urban area and do small, medium, or large scale gardening, then you are doing urban agriculture. But what exactly is urban agriculture?
We spoke with Marie-Andrée Asselin, horticultural manager and trainer at Les Urbainculteurs to demystify what urban agriculture is and to make this concept more accessible to everyone.
Table of contents
- What is urban agriculture?
- Who is urban agriculture for?
- What resources are needed to practise urban agriculture?
- What are the benefits of urban agriculture?
- 4 tips for practising urban agriculture
1. What is Urban Agriculture?
A concept with many definitions, urban agriculture can be summarized as agriculture practised in cities and peri-urban areas. However, it is difficult to draw the line where urban agriculture ends, as the boundaries of the city would need to be clearly defined.
According to Marie-Andrée, it would be more accurate to speak of urban agriculture in the plural rather than in the singular - urban agricultures - because it can take many forms: growing fruits and vegetables indoors and outdoors, mushrooms, microgreens, raising chickens, etc.
It can be practised indoors or outdoors in several environments: directly in the soil, in pots, in elevated containers, on roofs, terraces, etc. As long as it takes place in an urban environment, it is called urban agriculture.
2. Who is Urban Agriculture For?
According to Marie-Andrée, urban agriculture, also called urban gardening, is for everyone, as long as there is an interest.
“Gardening is one of those subjects that brings people together the most. At the urban farm, people come and talk to us, ask us questions about their garden. It’s really a universal topic and everyone, near and far, feels connected to it”.
So there is no specific target audience, but the practice of urban farming is very unifying: it often starts with an individual, and then comes to expand quickly. What starts out on a patio or balcony can move to a neighbourhood, then to a business or community group.
What starts out as a simple personal project can become a financial project, and then a structuring municipal project. The possibilities are almost endless!
3. What Resources Are Needed to Practise Urban Agriculture?
Human: an activity practised alone or in a group
The number of people needed to carry out an urban gardening project will depend on the size of the project and the ambitions of each person.
Marie-Andrée explains that there is no such thing as too little or too much urban agriculture. Whether it’s growing tomatoes on your balcony in the city or setting up a brand new urban farm downtown, all projects are relevant.
Once the guidelines have been established, it’s up to us to decide whether we want to do it alone, with friends, colleagues, or even with people in the neighbourhood!
Financial and material: a budget and tools according to your needs
Financial resources are often the reason why people don’t want to start this activity. However, urban agriculture does not have to be expensive. Before starting an urban gardening project, you must first define your budget. Then, you must choose a project that meets your budget. It’s as simple as that!
As for the equipment required, it’s the same principle, it will vary according to the type of urban agriculture practised, your needs and your budget.
That said, it is possible to garden in a more eco-friendly way, without necessarily buying (or almost). You could, for example, choose containers or pots that you already have at home, share seedlings with friends and family, or reuse the soil you have left over from last year.
Spatiotemporal: are you more of a terrace, patio, or rooftop type?
What makes urban agriculture so accessible is that it can be practised in small or large spaces, with little or no time commitment. Again, it all depends on your needs and your level of commitment.
It can be done on the kitchen counter, the balcony, the front yard, or the neighbourhood flower beds. Then, it’s up to you to decide if you want to invest one or more hours per week in your project. Obviously, the more time you put into it, the bigger it will get and the more space it will most likely require.
4. What Are The Benefits of Practising Urban Agriculture?
Practising urban agriculture has many benefits. According to Marie-Andrée, practising urban agriculture is…
- Learning how to grow your own vegetables
- Being proud to see the results of your efforts
- Making your personal environment and that of your neighbourhood greener and more beautiful
- Connecting with nature and every season
- Gaining more control over how food is produced
- Ensuring local production and more responsible consumption
- Creating social links
- Sharing and receiving knowledge from others
- Fighting against food insecurity
- Growing cheap fruits and vegetables that are expensive in grocery stores
- Promoting biodiversity (e.g. growing flowers is good for pollinating insects)
- Helping to control heat island effects
- Minimizing food transportation with local production
5. If You Had to Give 1 Piece of Advice to Someone Who Wants to Practise Urban Agriculture, What Would it be?
When we asked Marie-Andrée this question, she generously offered us three pieces of advice instead of one, all equally relevant.
#1 Remember that there is no wrong way to practise urban agriculture
The first step is always to identify your needs and level of commitment in terms of budget, time, and space. Then, simply work out a plan and follow it.
To be successful, be sure to start small and grow as you progress in this activity. The important thing is to pace yourself, take it one step at a time, and not go overboard too quickly.
#2 Don’t hesitate to seek out resources and tools
If you are just starting out in urban agriculture, there are many resources available to help you: books, podcasts, conferences, training, etc.
Don’t hesitate to consult the existing literature to get tips and tricks and to be as equipped as possible to enjoy your new activity.
#3 Accept that mistakes happen
Even after several years of experience, Marie-Andrée admits that she still makes mistakes on occasion.
“People sometimes forget that they are handling living things”.
So don’t be too hard on yourself and allow yourself to make mistakes. Don’t forget that every situation is different and that several factors can influence urban agriculture: the position of the yard, the level of sunlight, the type of soil, etc. Don’t hesitate to try things out and the worst thing that can happen is that it doesn’t work!
#4 Consider using a fertilization method to enrich your crops
Thanks to the Tero device, you can transform your food waste into natural fertilizer rich in nutrients for the soil, plants and vegetable garden. We asked Marie-Andrée how our fertilizing material can be integrated into urban agriculture practises.
According to her, this is an incredible opportunity for outdoor container gardening. When we grow fruits and vegetables in pots, we create soil ourselves (with soil, compost, etc.); it is not natural soil. This means that the crops can’t get enough of the nutrients normally found in the soil, which makes fertilization important.
With the Tero natural fertilizer rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, plants will get all the nutrients they need. You will therefore participate in reducing your food waste while promoting healthy growth for your crops.
This interview with Les Urbainculteurs sheds light on various aspects of urban agriculture. We now know what it is, what we need to do it, and the benefits we get from it.
So, it’s time to write down your needs, your level of commitment and your budget and start finding your green thumb!
Who are the Les Urbainculteurs?
Founded in 2009, Les Urbainculteurs is a non-profit organization working in Quebec City. Their main activity is the creation of urban vegetable gardens that can be adapted to different types of clients (organizations, private companies, housing cooperatives, etc.) and spaces (directly in the ground, on terraces, roofs, etc.).
Their objective is to develop productive and accessible urban agriculture through complete or partial assistance, training, conferences, and consulting services.
Since 2020, they have been managing the Louise Basin Gardens, and have recently developed a complete online training program on urban gardening (only available in French right now). It includes 44 courses divided into 5 modules available on an à la carte basis or as a complete course.