Many scholars have exposed the importance of urban agriculture (UA) for women in developing countries, especially because UA empowers them. However we don’t find much information in the literature about women involved in UA in developed countries. One phenomenon that called my attention during this course in Montreal as well as in Portland was that farmers in rural areas are mainly males, whereas women seem to be taking the lead in urban settings.
Entrepreneurship was well represented by women in both Montreal and Portland. A good example is De Blanc de Gris, a company located in Mercier – Hochelaga-Maisonneuve in Montreal, which produces fresh oyster mushrooms for local restaurants and markets. Dominique Lynch-Gauthier et Lysiane Roy Maheu started the business with the support of their families and public grants. It took one and a half years of design, financing and looking for the right place to install the facilities to start producing mushrooms. These are grown on organic residues produced in the neighborhood, such as wood chips, beer brewer’s dregs, and coffee grounds. Overall the company consumes 50 tons of the neighborhood waste per year. Residues leftover after the mushrooms are harvested are picked up by neighbours mainly to be used as compost for their gardens. What strikes me the most about Dominique and Lysiane is that they made this smart idea real…. We can feel there was and there is a lot of work behind the gorgeous oyster mushrooms. They are delicious with fried onions, garlic, olive oil and cilantro.
During our week in Portland we got to visit a couple of commercial urban farms that were created and managed by women: The Side Yard Farm and Kitchen, already described by Gwyneth in her blog of September 7th, and The Blue House Greenhouse farm, located in North Williams and North Cook. The last was started in 2010 by Amanda Morse, which holds a degree in Sustainable Food Systems and has a background in food production and education. She works on average 25 to 30 hrs per week with three more people to grow food during almost the whole year. Even when volunteers help her with the farm (in exchange of produce), she cannot live entirely from it and also has a part time job. The main challenges she faces are water supply and pressure to build in the land she occupies. Actually, the farm is surrounded by two buildings in ongoing construction. Amanda knows that her farm is at risk of being shut down because of construction, but she enjoys farming in the present moment. Despite knowing that her farm could potentially contribute to gentrification, she believes in what her work brings to the community (low income), green space, local and healthy food and a place for community building.
Gardening is important for many low income women and their families in Portland. Growing Gardens is a non-profit organization, whose mission is to support low income households to grow produce in available spaces (back and front yards, side yards, balconies, etc.). The organization is helping Mexican women, technically and financially, to grow a portion of their food in the Sequoia Square apartment’s common patio. The apartments are part of a low income housing project. Most of the women here are at home with their children and don’t speak English. Therefore they are isolated from the rest of the community. The gardens help them to socialize with other Spanish speaking mums and remind them about their cultural background. These women specially value gardening with their children, so they can offer them a bit of tradition from Mexico. Similarly, NE 72nd Community Garden, in Cully neighborhood, offers space to grow food to many immigrants. I spoke with two Mexican women who garden here. They cultivate many of the traditional plants they used to eat in Mexico and the produce they get is enough to feed their families so they don’t need to buy these products in the market. Husbands don’t usually garden with their family because they have full time jobs, but they build the fences for the plots. Racial discrimination seems to be intense for Mexicans according to the gardeners, and the time they spend taking care of their plots helps them to get going with life in Portland.
Paulina is a single mother and volunteers to coordinate the garden of the King Pre School Garden in the heart of NE Portland. She explained that 80% of the children assisting the school come from low income families. Paulina believes that education is important in supporting the community to adopt better healthy eating habits. So far, since she started in March of this year, children have participated actively and enthusiastically in the garden. However, much more support and participation is needed, especially from the school, to get the most of the garden. Being a single mom, volunteering to educate children and their families about gardening healthy food makes her a superhero!
L’agriculture urbaine comme un outil favorisant la justice sociale. Oui, mais… que faire de la question du logement ?
Une semaine intense de visite à Montréal, Québec. Une autre qui vient de se terminer à Portland, Oregon. Nous avons rencontré des fonctionnaires municipaux, des intervenants d’organismes à but non lucratif, des entrepreneurs, des bénévoles. La question de la justice sociale revient constamment. Mais, peut-on utiliser l’AU pour rétablir la justice sociale sans s’occuper de la question du logement ?
Exposer la problématique du logement est essentiel dans un cours sur l’AU visant à comprendre les dimensions politique et sociale de cette activité. La visite de Portland a permis d’identifier quelques différences culturelles marquantes entre les deux villes à cet effet. Ce billet les résume brièvement.
D’un côté, Portland fait face, depuis plusieurs années, à un renouvellement d’investissements dans l’immobilier, à une augmentation fulgurante du prix des loyers, à un déplacement de nombreuses personnes à faibles revenus vers des zones de plus en plus périphériques dont l’accès à divers services (transport en commun, parcs, épicerie, etc.) est limité. De plus, la Ville de Portland est située dans un état qui interdit aux villes et aux comtés de mettre en place des règlementations encadrant les modalités des hausses de loyer et l’inclusion de logements abordables au sein des nouveaux développements immobiliers. Plusieurs tentatives visant à abolir cette interdiction sont malheureusement restées infructueuses (1). Dans cette ville du Nord-ouest américain, plusieurs organismes à but non lucratif sont conscients de l’importance de résoudre la question du logement et que, sans la mise en place d’une solution à cet effet, tous ces projets d’AU ne pourront résorber la situation précaire vécue par une forte proportion de citoyens. En revanche, peu de ceux-ci ont les ressources pour agir directement pour offrir de meilleures conditions d’habitation sauf peut-être Verde qui chapeaute de nombreux projets dans Cully, dont un projet d’habitations à logements abordables, et assure la vitalité des quartiers en offrant de la formation et un salaire plus élevé (en plus des avantages sociaux) (2).
De l’autre côté, l’histoire du mouvement communautaire au Québec a encore une forte influence sur la question du logement à Montréal. En effet, on y trouve plus de 56 000 logements sociaux ou communautaires (3). De plus, la Régie du logement permet d’encadrer les augmentations de loyer. Enfin, au Québec, la législation ne contient pas d’obligation d’inclure des logements abordables aux nouveaux développements, mais la Ville de Montréal a adopté des mesures incitatives pour encourager cette inclusion. Cette stratégie n’est pas parfaite, mais a permis quelques gains et favoriser la mixité sociale (4). Ainsi qu’à Portland, cette question reste d’actualité, car de nombreux Montréalais doivent investir une forte proportion de leur revenu dans le loyer.
Cet exemple démontre l’importance de l’action politique (de tout type) afin que les institutions étatiques jouent leur rôle pour rééquilibrer la distribution des richesses et donner une chance à tous d’améliorer leurs conditions de vie. Les acteurs engagés en AU et ceux impliqués dans des initiatives de développement social parviendront-ils à modifier les lois de l’Oregon en matière d’habitation pour créer une véritable écocité qui n’implique pas seulement la réduction des impacts environnementaux, mais surtout la réduction des injustices sociales et la promotion de la participation citoyenne aux affaires de la cité ? Gardons un œil sur cette partie du nord-ouest américain au cours des prochaines années pour le découvrir.
On Tuesday (9/1/2015) of last week we continued our week of exploring urban agriculture in Portland (you can read about day one here!) with a day full of site visits and interviews!
We started off our day at Fulton Community Garden, located at SW 3rd and Barbur, where we met with Leslie Pohl-Kosbau. Leslie was the founder of the community gardens program at Portland Parks and Recreation, and serves as a current co-chair of the non-profit organization Friends of Portland Community Gardens. She was able to fill the class in on the process involved with starting the community gardens program, and she also discussed some of the unique challenges and opportunities that managing community gardens poses.
After hearing from Leslie, the class traveled to the Cully neighborhood in Northeast Portland, where we headed to Side Yard Farm to meet with urban farmer and chef Stacy Gibbons. Stacy explained how her farm was started, and talked about the role of urban agriculture within the Cully neighborhood. While at Side Yard Farm we also met with Josh Volk, the owner of Slow Hand Farm. Josh was able to fill us in on his urban agriculture (UA) work, and talk about his experience working with Portland's Food Policy Council.
Our last stop of the day was at Cully Neighborhood Farm, located behind the Trinity Lutheran Church in the Cully neighborhood. Here we spoke with the farm's founder, Matt Gordon, about his work with Grow Portland and the challenges of running an urban farm.
Overall, Tuesday provided valuable insights into the role UA plays in neighborhood change and community building, and gave the class a glimpse into some of the challenges that urban farmers and UA policy shapers face in their day-to-day work.
This is a story that likely happened in several places around the world, but the specific settings of this chapter are in Portland (PDX, OR, USA) and Montreal (MTL, QC, Canada). Both sites have a lot in common. They are nested within low-income neighborhoods (Cully and Saint-Michel) where reside people from various "etnic origins", according to the french-canadian ethical denomination, or the equivalent "people-of-color", as per the american standard nomenclature. From the early (MTL) or mid (PDX) 20th century to the 1980s, the two sites on opposing end of the continent were mined, amongst other things, for gravel. The MTL site was famous for dangerous operations and poorly calibrated explosive projected massive rocks in the homes of residents from the adjacent middle income neighbourhood (yes, there is still a middle class in Canada). Once the exploitation was over, a deep scar (15m in PDX and 70m in MTL) at the surface of the earth needed healing. Filling the hole with rubbish appeared as a brilliant solution. MTL welcomed household waste for 33 years (1967-2000), until limiting accepted waste to construction, renovation and demolition (CRD) debris in 2009 to minimize neighborhood nuisance (food waste generates more offensive odors and attracts rodents and seagulls) and prepare for an eventual site closure (capping completed in 2013)[i]. On the other hand, PDX solely burrowed CRD waste for the 10 year the landfill was in operation.
To protect groundwaters from heavy metal, nutrients and other organic pollutants leachate, the MTL site engineers relied on earth's secular natural protection, a thick mantle of clay at the bottom of the pit through which water infiltrates infinitely slowly. Leachate was collected and filtered at extensive costs, but this did not prevent a toxic plume formation in the groundwaters. The PDX site innovated, it was was the first in the state to use a special geomembrane to prevent this problem, though the long term impermeability of such membranes is yet unknown.
To protect earth's atmosphere from greenhouse gas emissions originating from anaerobic organic waste decomposition, the two sites relied on the same gas capture principle. However, poor conception of the capture system at PDX led to methane accumulation in the ground, with leaks of this potentially explosive gas all the way to neighbors’ basements. Hence, a renovation of this system was tackled by the federal government. In MTL too methane leaks were recorded close to nearby businesses. There, a system was conceived to capture the gases and supply a 25 MW power plant, the 3rd most important project of this type in the world[i], able to energize 15 000 homes[ii]. Unfortunately, decreasing emissions capture did not sustain the power plant which was shutdown in 2014 and revamped to improve efficiency[iii].
The future appears brighter for both sites where rehabilitation plans including eco-districts and large parks unfold. In MTL, the city planned a 192 ha park surrounded by businesses within an Environmental Complex. There ecological infrastructures (LED certified circus headquarters, theatre and indoor soccer field) are co-developped along with policies to favor hiring of the low-income neighbors. To concentrate sustainable waste management on site (where a recycling facility and leaf composting sites are already located), the city proposed a large-scale biomethanisation plant. This led to a revolt of the community who felt they had already suffered enough because of the site's history. The administration heard their appeal and proposed a remote site. This nevertheless collaterally led to wasted tax-payers money and delays for the opening of the much needed facility with the 2020 organic waste landfill ban fast approaching[i]. Urban agriculture programs extended beyond the existing community garden with vegetable growing and apiary projects (TOHU). Native people were honorifically included in the design of gas capture pipes which will be covered with domes similar to traditional sweat lodges, where indigenous vines will grow. Neighborhood resident committee keeps a tab as planning and construction unfolds, but the community involvement in MTL appears embryonic compared to the PDX process.
Entrance to the Community garden is behind a trailer park on NE 72st street (left). The Cully neighborhood is poor and was home to criminal activities (i.e. at the Sugar Shack) until a group of citizens and not-for-profit organizations decided to reclaim their neighborhood (right). Photos: Louise Hénault-Ethier.
In PDX, the community initially had to fight to reclaim the Superfund site which suffered from lack of municipal leadership. The "Let us build Cully park" movement was born with the intent of opening a 25 acre (10 ha) park by 2017[i]. But instead of having a limited power consultative resident committee, an innovative approach to participatory planning unfolded. Residents were paid to learn about site contamination, planned a sampling with the help of accredited professionals, and acted as ambassadors in their community to confirm the safety of the site. Students were involved in the planning of the community garden which had, to the great delight of one of them, to be built on uneven terrain. Native urban communities secured an inter-tribal gathering garden where the generalized prohibition on picking natural flora was alleviated for cultural purposes. All of these efforts were integrated in a greater plan to build wealth in this low-income community eco-district taking concrete measures to avoid displacement and gentrification.
This comparative history shows that several approaches are possible to rehabilitate environmentally and socially damaged urban neighborhoods which lived through mining, landfilling and social inequity. The MTL approach appears more institutionalized, whereas the PDX approach is more grass roots. However, both projects eventually met through the development of urban agriculture, a rising trend addressing environmental and social sustainability. It’s interesting to see how the loop was closed, as the MTL site was cultivated to feed the growing city in the 18th century.
By Louise Hénault-Ethier
Who we are /