The Grenoble-Saint-Ismier Secondary Horticultural School organized the Summer School of Urban Agriculture from May 18 to 20, in collaboration with the Montreal Urban Agriculture Laboratory, the PACTE laboratory of the University of Grenoble-Alpes, the City of Grenoble and the Terre Ecological Site Vivante Center. Interview with Antoine Back, Deputy Mayor of Grenoble about the place of urban agriculture in the city today and tomorrow.
What does urban agriculture mean for the city of Grenoble?
Since the last mandate, we have seen that the fact that residents can grow in the city, in public spaces or in community gardens, makes it possible to reconnect with the living, grow quality food, think long about the weather , on knowledge, to work on gastronomy. We are trying to go beyond the strictly civic dimension and open up urban farms in the city. The first to open was the detailed gardens in the horticultural center of the city of Grenoble. Then there was the Millepousses farm that produces microgreens. And we’re going to open a third farm, in GrandAlpe. It is a citizen project that supports the city in the context of urban renewal.
The general idea is that cities can contribute to the food autonomy of territories. The aim is not to make food self-sufficient in the city, but to contribute to the food chain together with the suburbs and the countryside. This makes it possible to have a shorter sector, control over land and connect city dwellers to the living and natural cycle.
Are the restrictions in cities greater than in the countryside?
In the city, the plots are smaller, the quality of the soil varies greatly. But there are also opportunities in the city, such as land close to traffic routes or processing centers (eg canning). There is also the issue of securing production, especially in light of theft phenomena.
Is urban pollution compatible with urban agriculture?
It is above all soil contamination that can be complicated. In terms of air pollution and the organic compounds we breathe, no matter what people say, this is less of a problem than in certain places in the countryside where there is a lot of fertilizer. In the city, we need to start agroecology with organic crops that respect the soil, the living, the people who produce and the consumers. If the quality of the soil is not sufficient, we can work on shapes above ground. What is interesting about urban agriculture is its ingenuity. All kinds of techniques that are not used in the traditional rural world are very interesting in the city and we can use a low-tech approach to produce intensively and in a soil-friendly manner. Cities make it possible to experiment with production methods that we may really need in the near future.
“Everyone can find themselves there”
What are the results of your research into the potential of urban agriculture in Grenoble?
The investigation has not yet been completed. However, we know that the number of good quality plots available in Grenoble is extremely low. So the gardening option is, to put it modestly, the smallest. However, there are many places in old parking garages and fortifications or on roofs that lend themselves to urban agriculture. Between now and the start of the school year we will make proposals to groups within the City and then we will set up projects with the residents, with cooperatives…
What is the destination of urban agricultural products in Grenoble?
There are several outlets including direct sales to locals in the markets. There is an option for restorers. It is a niche market and that is what Millepousses does, for example. Outside the perimeter of Grenoble, I think of players like Champiloop in Eybens, who sell as much in the markets as they do in restaurants. We are thinking of integrating this into collective catering. The question of sizing remains. The orders of magnitude don’t necessarily match, but it can be interesting. Everyone can therefore find their way there: consumers, gastronomic craftsmen, restaurateurs and collective catering.
“Whatever we do, we will always be better”
Have you identified a critical threshold for achieving this so as to benefit as many people as possible?
On the municipal territory of Grenoble, it is difficult to set very large targets. On the Metropolis scale, we are at 2% (excluding self-production, editor’s note) of food autonomy. At the Grenoble level, we are around 0%. The good news is that no matter what we do, we will always be better off. The aim is to create a culture of urban agriculture, which is respected and, for young people, to provide the opportunity to train in Grenoble in the specific techniques of urban agriculture corresponding to an emerging know-how that we will need in the near future.
Can we expect other urban farming projects in Grenoble in the coming years?
It’s the objective. In the imagination, a farm is a unity of place with buildings, land around it. You have to think differently about this in an urban context. It is more of an economic unit with multiple production locations in the city that are not necessarily connected to each other. The idea is to have professional farming in the city where the production is consumed locally.
Could they operate under municipal management?
It’s an option, but it can be limited in terms of outlets. For example, we cannot sell to private individuals. Hybrid forms can be found, such as cooperatives of collective interest (SCIC) that make it possible to associate municipalities, producers and consumers in a community of interest. This makes it possible to clearly define the destination of production in a shared governance.
What inspired you when presenting urban farming in Quebec?
I’m quite surprised, it’s very inspiring. But we don’t have the same administrative and regulatory constraints. Much is possible there and not here. But you have to keep the inspiration. They have urban agriculture that can be industrial, on high volumes, sometimes low tech and sometimes not at all. They can impose derogations in the municipalities. For example, we can have large buildings built there if and only if city farms are built on the roof.