Farmers’ market trend fuels push to rezone farmland
Former stockbroker turned Ste. Anne de Bellevue farmer Ramzy Kassouf selling produce to a customer at Ile Perrot market.
by JULIE CADIEUX
Last week I hit the local farmers’ market of Hudson, as well as the grand opening of the St. Lazare and Île Perrot farmers’ markets. I learned that the producers and farmers come from all over the region — Coteau du Lac, Ste Antoine l’Abbé, St. Justine, Très-Saint-Rédempteur, St. Marthe, with a smattering from Rigaud, Hudson and the West Island.
With outdoor farmers’ markets growing in popularity (last week saw markets start up in St. Lazare and l’Île Perrot, joining those in Rigaud, Coteau du Lac, Hudson and Ste. Anne de Bellevue) small food producers I spoke to all said they’re happy to be part of a growing trend. “People want fresh and local food and local markets like this make it easy,” one producer told me.
Even though 85 percent of residents live in urban areas, settlement patterns have changed from the traditional compact, centralized city to suburbs spreading into surrounding countrysides. St. Lazare, once a peaceful farming community, has seen its population increase by almost 80 percent in the last decade. Only in the last few years have municipalities like St. Lazare and Hudson begun to consider that intensive urban development is leading to environmental degradation and have begun to look at new zoning that would favour the re-emergence of small-scale agricultural operations.
Even with this trend toward shopping and eating locally, there are pitfalls facing town planners, policymakers, and citizens. First, they must decide the appropriate scale for urban agriculture, whether food processing and sales are appropriate in residential areas, and should food production be treated differently than other types of businesses competing for space in the town.
Quebec’s strict agricultural lands protection regulations are built around a basic concern: how to prevent individuals who will claim to be urban farmers by housing a few chickens or tending a large garden when in reality they seek to dezone agricultural land for the purpose of building a house.
Hudson mayor Mike Elliott said the town realizes that there “is a shortage of producers, of local vegetables and produce.” Rezoning of land needs to happen to encourage smaller and urban farmers to go into business closer to town and city centers. Elliott confirmed that “town planning is looking at ideas but it’s still in its infancy” and hopes they can present something to town council in the next few months. The basic idea is to have the east and west ends retain their agricultural zoning while allowing the large lots to be subdivided for small-scale producers who neither need nor can afford the acreage.
“People and grocery stores not only want but need local food,” says Richard Dubois, whose Touché Dubois Communications clients include the Rigaud market. At the same time, “entrepreneurs and family businesses are becoming more and more rare,” he adds. Result: here in Vaudreuil-Soulanges, one of Quebec’s most fertile agricultural regions, the next generation is not continuing the family farming and agricultural business. Another factor is financial support, says Dubois. “L’Union des Producteurs Agricoles (UPA) only gives assistance to big farms, not small ones.”
I met Ramzy Kassouf of Les Jardins Carya, which produces organic fruits and vegetables. In 1995, he purchased his land nestled near Ste. Anne de Bellevue’s Morgan Arboretum at a time when speculators were interested in the acreage for development.
Kassouf left a career as a stockbroker and in 2005, with the help of his two partners began Les Jardins Carya. “The demand has been incredible,” he said, adding that municipalities are beginning to recognize the need for “local food for local community.”
Last week at the St. Anne’s open market he sold much more than he had anticipated and was low on stock halfway through. He told me that Beaconsfield is trying to push through their permit in hopes of opening a Farmers’ Market later this summer, to be located on Elm in the train station parking lot.
The Hudson St-Lazare Gazette – June 8 2011