While Hamilton is home to more than 700,000 people, nearly 80 per cent of the city is made up of rural and agricultural land. That’s why, in recent years, the city has changed its mind regarding urban farms.
In 2013, a report titled Urban Agriculture Policy, Planning, and Practice was submitted to the Neighbourhood Development Strategy Office by the Urban Agricultural Working Group, representing various departments and neighbourhood action planning teams.
The report was intended to assist policy and decision makers at the city of Hamilton as they investigate how urban agriculture might be better enabled by the City’s programs and regulatory framework, citing various benefits to urban farming and structural recommendations for the city to review.
The city’s Planning and Economic Development Department began removing barriers to urban agriculture in the following year. That year saw new city bylaws that would allow more urban farms and community gardens to grow in our city, including in residential, commercial and institutional areas.
These rules would allow on-site sales of produce grown on urban farms on properties of atleast 0.4 hectare where growing is the primary use. On properties less than 0.4 hectare, produce can be grown but not sold on-site, while in downtown or pedestrian-predominant streets, food growing would be limited to rear yards or rooftop gardens.
Since then, several urban farms have started sprouting around the city. In fact, there are nearly 100 functioning farms in Hamilton’s urban areas.
These urban farms vary in size and need, depending on the farm’s structure or where it is located geographically. Some farms are strategically located in Hamilton’s food deserts, or areas and neighbourhoods that lack access to healthy, nutritious food.
McQuesten Urban Farm was founded in 2015 as part of an initiative to increase food security in the McQuesten area. Not only does the farm address the issue of securing a nutritious and sustainable food source for the community, but also provides volunteer opportunities for citizens of all ages, adds economic value to the community, and fosters strong bonds amongst residents in McQuesten.
Patricia Reid, longtime volunteer and pioneer of McQuesten Urban Farm, hopes to help the neighbours learn new skills surrounding urban agriculture and to share their new-found skills with their family and friends.
“This project is very rewarding at so many levels and a great achievement of the McQuesten neighbours,” said Reid. “Having experienced food insecurity over the years has made me keenly aware of the need to provide alternatives to fast food.”
Backyard projects have also come to life following the city’s new bylaws surrounding urban farms.
Miguel Feston, a McMaster graduate, began farming in a backyard of his friend’s student house when he was in school. He continues to farm at this property, in addition to a larger farm in Carlisle, Ontario, and sells his produce at two local markets.
“In my fourth year [at university], I met somebody who grew in people’s backyards and sold at a local market,” said Feston. “He was really curious about this cool idea of growing vegetables in the city. I wanted to help him and got to learn more about it and I eventually decided I didn’t want to use my math degree. I just wanted to do this.”
Hamilton’s 2016 to 2025 Strategic Plan sees environmental sustainability as one of its top priority projects. The project’s key directions include a focus on natural features that the city has to offer, leadership and awareness initiatives, and considering environmental impacts in decision making processes.
While there is still a long way to go, the growing number of urban farms in the city, in addition to the opportunities that follow seem to be addressing a major aspect of this Strategic Plan.