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Urban Agriculture in Canada

Urban Agriculture Capacity in Ontario Municipalities. 

Dr. Wayne Caldwell is a retired professor in Rural Planning and Development and member of the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs Greenbelt Council with a long-time career affiliation with the County of Huron’s Department of Planning and Development. 

On Dec. 7, 2023, Dr. Wayne Caldwell participated in a discussion regarding one of his research projects titled, ‘Assessing the Capacity of Municipalities to Respond to Evolving Rural and Agricultural Issues’. This hour-long discussion is excellent and is definitely worth watching, but we’ve highlighted a few clips from this discussion for quick access: 

The evolving role of municipalities in agriculture

1 min, 5 secs.

Dr. Caldwell talks about the relationship between planning and elected officials.

What is urban agriculture capacity?

1 min, 18 secs.

Regan Zink is completing an MSc in Rural Planning and Development with a specialization in One Health under the supervision of Dr. Silvia Sarapura and Dr. Wayne Caldwell, and explains what capacity means in urban agriculture. 

Why is capacity important?

2 mins, 7 secs.

Dr. Caldwell speaks to urban agriculture planning and how it directly affects quality of life. 

Examples of Ontario municipalities engaging in urban agriculture

1 min, 14 secs.

Regan Zink provides three examples of municipalities in Ontario who've started investing in a city-held urban agriculture department. 

Example: Grapes in Huron County

1 min, 3 secs.

Dr. Caldwell provides a great example of Huron County taking leadership in new development that supports agriculture and the community. 

In November 2013, Toronto’s City Council formed the Toronto Agricultural Program (TAP). This involved spending funds on: defining the roles of the various urban agriculture centres, coordinating the City’s activities in relation to the GrowTO initiative, and addressing barriers facing growers looking for available land. In this publication titled ‘The Role of Policy in Developing Sustainable Urban Agriculture: Recommendations for the Toronto Urban Growing System’ written by Angela Gong at the University of Toronto on August 27th, 2020, Angela details key barriers that could easily be addressed if the city’s goals were aligned with it’s community’s: “The program committed to developing three community gardens annually, improving education around Sustainable Urban Agriculture (SUA), supporting school gardens, promoting the City’s Eco-Roof Incentive Program, and engaging in partnerships with other city departments. The TAP released a 2013-2014 workplan upon formation with detailed steps for developing SUA… since 2014, the TAP has not released further updates or plans regarding their activities. Furthermore, interviews since 2014 with municipal policymakers have highlighted that SUA is not yet a strong focus for the City, and commitments to improving land access through zoning bylaws have not been met. For example, even with support from relevant powers, community organizations must pay $16,000 CAD to submit a rezoning application that would allow them to build a greenhouse for protected multi-season growing. At Malvern community gardens, gardeners largely choose to self-govern and resolve conflict “within house, because the scare is always that if we involve the city too much, they might just take the space away from us.” The gardeners lack clarity and security around what powers the City has over their land access, preventing them from seeking as much technical or social support as they may require. Furthermore, the City prioritizes aesthetic value of the park and garden space over the functionality and benefits of SUA: “We’re not allowed to have trellises or structures over a certain height, we have to keep all the grass cut.” The activist highlights this aesthetic standard as a barrier to developing SUA, and calls for new developments to change the standard landscaping protocols: “Those landscapes within development should all have components of native plant habitat and food growing possibilities... as defaults rather than simply sodding over with lawn.” These accounts are in contrast to recognition at all government levels that improved land access and tenure are key to expanding SUA, demonstrating a gap between commitment and implementation at the policy level. The Government of Ontario is well-positioned to take decisive policy-based action to promote sustainable agricultural practices. However, the Province’s most recent environmental protection plan made no concrete commitments to sustainable agriculture, despite the existence of previously released provincial documents demonstrating awareness of the benefits and pathways to sustainable agriculture. In terms of urban agriculture, the Ontario Trillium Foundation published Opportunities for Growth: An Urban Agriculture Toolkit in 2017, highlighting how current provincial legislation can be a barrier to expanding urban agriculture. For example, guidelines for selling produce are only applicable to medium- and large-scale growers, and many provincial public lands are inaccessible for allocation to community garden programs. Despite highlighting case studies and concrete actions that the Province could take to promote urban growing, the Province has not yet made any commitments towards helping develop sustainable urban agriculture. Fresh City Farms CEO asserts, “We need to see more city leaders really focusing on these areas as more than just a place to spend free time.” He suggests that to motivate this change, we need to highlight the health benefits and environmental incentives to grow in the city. However, when it comes to governance at the community level, the activist asserts that the government should help remove barriers to it, and “recognize the power within community”.

Opportunities for Municipal Food Policy Changes

There are multiple policy avenues that can support people growing food where they live in Canada. For example, municipalities and public housing providers interested in helping hungry people eat can consider:

  • Creating incentives that encourage local and homegrown food in rental housing, manufactured home parks, nursing homes, assisted living, and senior living communities, including the creation of bylaws that prevent public housing corporations from unreasonably restricting homegrown food. 

  • Leveraging local zoning laws and bylaws to support local and homegrown food, including permitting growing food in all zones and prohibiting gardening restrictions in new developments. 

  • Repealing restrictive bylaws pertaining to growing food, including laws that prohibit edible gardening or urban agriculture, restrict gardens to only back and/or side yards, and mandate lawn or other restrictive yard appearance.

  • Encouraging public housing providers to inform and assist tenants in meeting the Canada Health Act, whose primary objective is to facilitate reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers. 

  • Supporting edible landscaping on public land, foraging, and community gardening, particularly in areas with multi-unit rental housing and small lot sizes. 


  • Resisting preemptive laws that limit local action to support food growers. 

In Canada, municipal and public housing provider policies prevent low-income families living in public housing from being able to grow vegetable gardens where they live. In Manitoba, this policy has recently been highlighted in the media. In British Columbia, however, some positive policy changes are happening. 

Manitoba Housing says Joey Cowan has to remove the raised garden he built in his front yard, calling it a hazard for children.

According to Manitoba Housing, it has seven community gardens on its various properties, but when I asked how many other properties could be ripe for large-scale vegetable gardens, officials didn’t have a number. That suggests to me Manitoba Housing isn’t promoting the concept. Perhaps, in part, that’s because of what I witnessed on the way home from work at the public housing neighbourhood called Gilbert Park. Where a community garden thrived not so long ago, there is only scrub grass, weeds and leftover raspberry bushes lining the fence.

- Gordon Sinclair Jr. from The Winnipeg Free Press

Manitoba Public Housing's community gardens.

The Garden Fund provides start-up funding of up to $3,000 to BC Housing non-profit housing partners to build gardens and start garden programs at their buildings. In addition, Garden Fund recipients will have access to phone support from BC Housing’s People, Plants, and Homes team for their first growing season.

get growing BC Public Housing Providers
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