Urban vegetable gardens: it doesn’t change the world, except that …

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Armed with lots of free time and inspired by the beautiful speeches aboutfood autonomy, many city dwellers started gardening for the first time during the confinement. And even if the ambitions of self-sufficiency can quickly be cooled, those who have cultivated their space for years know that the benefits of urban vegetable gardens are elsewhere. Meeting with two enthusiasts of urban agriculture.

“I went to a garden center once this spring and there was a line of cars … it made no sense!” says Gabrielle Lamontagne-Hallé.

The sustainable development consultant, who has been growing an urban vegetable garden every year since 2013, understands their appeal.

“When I am in my garden, I no longer see the time passing. I don’t think about anything anymore. ”

– Gabrielle Lamontagne-Hallé

“The primary motivation that makes me come back to it again and again every year is definitely fun,” she continues. In February-March, we are in the depths of winter, the gray … Leaving seedlings at this precise time of the year is really a kind of resurrection. To have little green bits sticking out, to be able to eat something alive … It sounds silly, but that makes all the difference. “

On her little Côte-des-Neiges terrace, upstairs in a restaurant, she grows lettuce, tomatoes, herbs, kale, edible flowers, Swiss chard … Her vegetable garden has evolved over the years and many moves, going from the terrace to balconies of all sizes. “I never had the chance to have a vegetable garden in the ground. But it is done with all kinds of spaces, I have experienced it, ”she says.

Gabrielle Lamontagne-Hallé cultivates her urban vegetable garden while respecting her environmental values. It does not use any chemical fertilizer and reduces its consumption of drinking water thanks to double bottoms made from cut election signs.

If her production allows her to stop buying kale and herbs at the grocery store in summer, she is not on the verge of canceling her subscription to organic vegetable baskets. This does not mean that her vegetable garden has not transformed the way she eats.

“Having a garden is a great showcase for seasonality,” she says. One of the big problems we have as urban people is that we are completely out of touch with the reality of how food is produced. ”

According to her, consumers do not know at what time of the season local fruits and vegetables are ready to be bought.

“We don’t know it is when the tomato season, really. It looks like early June is summer, so there should be tomatoes. Well … yes and no. If they have been in the greenhouse, there will be ready. But in the open field, there will not be any before the end of July because it is in the normal order of things.

Having a vegetable patch with small samples of everything reminds you of this seasonality. ”

Eggplant, leek, various tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, fennel, Swiss chard, edible flowers, cabbage, peppers, squash, strawberries ... impossible to list everything that grows at Réal Migneault.  He even has a peanut plant!

Eggplant, leek, various tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, fennel, Swiss chard, edible flowers, cabbage, peppers, squash, strawberries … impossible to list everything that grows at Réal Migneault. He even has a peanut plant!

Réal Migneault, he is one of the rare Montrealers for whom self-sufficiency (in vegetables, at least!) Is not so utopian. The vegetable garden he has cultivated for fifteen years on the front of the apartment he rents in Ahuntsic produced enough to provide his family of four children with vegetables for the year.

And now that her children have left the nest, her hobby has turned into a job.

«Last year, when I realized that my freezer was still full of the stock from the previous year and that my garden was starting to supply, I decided to put a small sign “for sale”.” The Montreal street farm was born.

“I have become the small vegetable convenience store in the neighborhood.”

– Réal Migneault

With the permission of its owner, the tenant has created over the years a breathtaking garden that occupies almost every plot of the 500 square foot lot.

«I started by growing things that I liked: tomatoes, lettuces, accessible things“, Lists Mr. Migneault, remembering the birth of his vegetable garden.

Even Réal Migneault's parking space is taken advantage of, thanks to modules that he himself made from recycled wood.

Even Réal Migneault’s parking space is taken advantage of, thanks to modules that he himself made from recycled wood.

The gardener was not completely a beginner, since his parents themselves had a vegetable garden when he was a child. “I knew the pleasure of growing your own food“, He explains.

Small gardens, big impacts

If he concedes that most gardeners will not save money by growing their own vegetables, he believes that the practice allows them to have a new grip on their diet. “We know what we are growing. When you taste it, it tastes better!»He assures vehemently.

He also points out that urban agriculture provides access to more varieties of fruit and vegetables. “We can get out of the varieties that are offered in large chains, which are often chosen more to be able to be transported than to be tasty“He says.

This year, to “give the ground a break”, Réal Migneault is growing his 12 varieties of tomatoes in geotextile pots, rather than in the ground.

Environmental activist, Gabrielle Lamontagne-Hallé appreciates the ecological virtues of her garden, where she also grows honey plants to attract pollinators, includingexistence is threatened. “But I’m not deluding myself, it’s not my vegetable garden that is saving the planet,” she says.

However, she believes that urban agriculture is a springboard to other green gestures, such as reducing food waste.

“The first tomato that you grow, there is no question of letting it soften on your counter for four days!She says. “We tend to take groceries more for granted.”

She believes that by maintaining a vegetable garden, city dwellers become less “disconnected” and more respectful of the agricultural world.

Gabrielle Lamontagne-Hallé may not save the world with her vegetable patch, but that will not prevent her from continuing to “pummel” it every year.

Gabrielle Lamontagne-Hallé may not save the world with her vegetable patch, but that will not prevent her from continuing to “pummel” it every year.

A vision shared by Réal Migneault. He believes so much in the power of urban agriculture that he is currently working to expand his street farm on a second site: the Saint-Jude Sanctuary site, a few steps from his home.

“It would give us a 6,500 square foot neighborhood urban microfarm on two sites,” he explains.

It has already obtained the owners’ agreement and is currently in fundraising to launch his project.

In the meantime, his NPO is continuing its work to democratize urban agriculture by offering advice and support services to those who wish to embark on the adventure.

Green thumb expert tips

Have you just moved to your new home or your balcony suddenly seems very sad? It’s not too late to set up your little vegetable patch, says Réal Migneault. Gabrielle Lamontagne-Hallé warns, however, that the choice in nurseries may be more limited due to the great enthusiasm for gardening this year. In a nutshell, their advice for neophyte urban farmers:

Be realistic. “At the beginning, we sometimes have the idealistic vision of” ah, I’m going to aim for food autonomy, to grow my own things “,” admits Gabrielle Lamontagne-Hallé. “But we realize that it is still a lot of work, time, energy and, unfortunately, money.So she suggests starting with a fairly simple vegetable garden the first year. “It is important to respect your limits so as not to be discouraged after a year and never do it again“, she says.

Windstorms are your friends. It is the secret weapon par excellence to prevent squirrels from pilfering the precious fruit of your labor. As for birds, they can be discouraged by hanging old CDs near their plants. The reflection of the sun and the movement repel them safely.

The movement and the colors of the tackers keep rodents away, in addition to decorating your balcony.

The movement and the colors of the tackers keep rodents away, in addition to decorating your balcony.

No bare ground, please! Our two urban farmers emphasize the usefulness of covering the ground to better protect our plants. Réal Migneault suggests spreading ramial fragmented wood chips (RBF) on the ground rather than cedar mulch or straw. “The RBF provides better resilience in terms of temperature control and humidity maintenance,” he says. And this is also true for hanging planters and balconies, insists Gabrielle Lamontagne-Hallé. “They’re very practical because they take up less space, but they dry out very quickly and the plants can suffer from the heat quickly during heat waves,” she says.

What do we plant in town?

Herbs. This is ideal because it is often things that we buy in too large a quantity for what we need so there are a lot of losses, ”says Ms. Lamontange-Hallé. When they are on the balcony, they are harvested as you go!

Tomatoes. There is still time to plant tomatoes for harvest this year, but the variety will have to be carefully chosen, says Migneault. Some varieties need 60 to 70 days to produce fruit, which brings us to the beginning of September.

Peppers and eggplant. Like tomatoes, they are part of the nightshade family, which love warmth. “And a balcony in Montreal is like a micro-climate because of the heat islands,” says Ms. Lamontagne-Hallé. Make sure you have fairly deep tubs, because these varieties need a lot of nutrients and space to grow their roots.

Snow peas and beans. A great option to teach the basics of gardening to children, seeds planted in the ground – which costs almost nothing! – can produce a crop in about a month, explains the gardener.

And of course, there is nothing wrong with getting your hands dirty by buying seedlings or planters, which will only need to be watered and maintained.

Throughout the summer, the “HuffPost Guide to Local Eating»Will offer a series of reports aimed at helping Quebecers who are keen to fill their plate with local products.

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