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Entries in Paris (8)


Birth-Day for Food and the City Book!

Typing that headline made my palms sweat, but yes, today is the official publication date of my book, Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution (Prometheus Books, 2012).

I started thinking about a book on urban agriculture back in spring 2007 after a trip to Cuba, and wrote an article called "Why don't we have gardens like this?" for Maclean's magazine, a major Canadian newsweekly. Just seeing the potential of how much and what types of food Cubans were growing on small-scale community-supported urban farms on raised beds over old parking lots was an epiphany. Then, closer to home, I began to notice food growing in front yards, on rooftops and the proliferation of community gardens in my home town. Even the sight of tomatoes or basil growing in pots on a condo balcony became an increasingly common sight. All of these small acts of producing food in cities sparked and sizzled with potential for me, an enthusiastic food gardener AND a city dweller.

Shortly after that trip to Cuba, I noticed a mainstreaming of interest in issues like local foods and community gardening in Edmonton, Alberta and pretty much everywhere else I looked. By 2008, there were several groups coming together to figure out how to create a critical mass of what was then special interest groups working in food security, nutrition, food banks, social work, and community development. They found that they had much more in common with groups looking at food literacy and community gardening that they probably had initially thought.

Then the community-engagement movment started in the urban planning arena. Suddenly, highly motivated and relatively young urbanites and church groups alike were putting pressure on their city hall to take quality of life into account when making decisions about transportation, waste management, and landuse. Access to local food and taking food production back into the hands of the everyday citizen seemed to be a catalyst for a lot of these decisions.

By 2010, I was racing to keep up with all of the energetic groups that were out there in Canada, the US and the UK. I went back to Cuba to get a better grasp on how they invented a de-industrialized food system, largely through urban agriculture. I then made a side trip to France to look at food gardens in Paris because it was the city where urban agriculture flourished in the mid-nineteenth century. (Ever wonder why it's called "French Intensive Gardening" or we still call raised beds potagers??)

In early 2011, I travelled to Chicago, Detroit and New York. It was winter, so I didn't tour any of the NYC's amazing rooftop farms, but found incredible stories in Detroit and Chicago, two entire chapters in themselves. In Detroit, there was the Hanz Farms project, what is planned to be the world's largest urban farm, right in the vacant land in downtown Detroit. In Chicago, I spent a day touring The Plant, the world's first vertical farm. Rather than a futuristic multi-million-dollor glass-and-steel skyscraper that may never make it off the drawing board, sustainable industrial developper John Edel has taken a former meat-packing plant and turned it into an open-source model for infrastructure resuse that I think is the way of the future...until we run out of all those vacant offices and manufacturing spaces. Which isn't likely to happen any time soon, given the millions of square feet of vacant and abandoned commercial space in cities across the midwest.

As I say in the acknowledgments at the end of my book:

One of the greatest pleasures I got while researching and writing this book was to meet so many passionate people in urban agriculture, food systems, and urban food gardening. I will always treasure the new friends I met along the way who gave their time and energy toward helping me understand why they do what they do. Each and every one, in her and his own way, helped me realize that while growing a few heirloom veggies in the front yard, tending a community orchard, or keeping a beehive on a condo rooftopmay seemlike an insignificant thing on its own, it is these little actions of self-reliance and community self-sufficiency that are at the forefront of the new food revolution. More importantly, the world is a richer, and tastier, place for your important work. To them, I simply say: keep growing.

I look forward to the various book launch events already planned -- and those that will be planned in the next few months. I'll start to work on posting events on this site. You can also follow along on Facebook and on Twitter and LinkedIn. I look forward to the discussions about what is happening in other communities and households, whether they happen on this blog or in real life.

Lastly, the entire book is about how various people and cities are taking control back of their food system. They are doing this by planting seeds in their own communities and reaping the harvest. Small acts add up to big changes in our communities, and really it's up to us to take on those small acts. If you choose to buy a book, please consider the effects of your choice of where you buy your book. Money spent at local independent businesses build strong, resilient, and creative communities. If you can, please consider supporting your local, independent bookstore. The power is in your pocket, so excercise your power in a way that builds the type of community and city that you want to live in.



Greenroofs in Paris, via

Copyright: Nature Capitale – A creation by Gad Weil Photo credit : Nature Capitale/Resolute D.R.Paris surprised me last year when I visited to poke around looking for signs of urban agriculture. (Perhaps because I had no expectations, I was totally impressed by what I saw. In fact, it turned out to be the lead chapter of main part of my book on the various cities at the forefront of urban agriculture that I visited.)

First of all, Paris is where many of the elements that we use today in modern urban agriculture came the mid-19th century. (Paris' maraicher district was the primary urban gardening zone of the city...and it was so successful and productive that all over France, urban and peri-urban market gardeners are known as maraichers / maraicheres.)

Today, Paris has a very active urban beekeeping scene. The fact that pesticide use in the city limits has been illegal for over a decade might be a significant element of the success of Paris' urban bee hives. It's also not a city I associate with community gardens, but I found a fantastic one just around the corner from my friends' flat and met a wonderful community gardener, M. Griffault. Here's my post from last October about Paris' urban agriculture.

It's not just food that Parisians are growing...there are around 10 urban vineyards in right in the city, and 132 in the greater Paris metropolitain area.

Today, via a report by Alex Davies on, it seems that Paris is going to surge ahead with 80,000 square yards of green roofs and rooftop gardens by 2020.

Félicitations, Paris!



Sunday Garden Tour: Paris Community Garden, October 2, 2010

This could only be Paris! Man in beret sits jauntily on creperie café terrace

Last October, I spent three days in Paris looking at community gardens, urban vineyards, and visiting the impressive Potager du Roi, in Versailles, just a 45 minute train ride from central Paris. 

Perhaps the best “find” was a community garden in the 13th Arrondissement. It was just a few blocks from my friends’ house, and we wandered over to take a few photos. We were immediately welcomed by a gardener and given a complete, comprehensive tour of the whole garden.

Here’s a quick excerpt from my book manuscript:

     As in most cities in Europe and North America, interest in urban food gardening in Paris hit an all-time low in the 1990s but started to rebound just as it was threatening to become extinct. In 1999, a group of “guerilla gardeners,” activists who plant food gardens on underused or abandoned urban sites without approval of the land’s owners, planted an illegal garden on a former industrial site. The project, called The Green Hand, got an official sanction a couple of years later when Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë supported urban revitalization and urban greening initiatives like Paris’ famous Vélib’ bicycle-sharing program and the city-wide ban on pesticide use after his election in 2001. Now, La Main Verte is the city’s official community gardening resource organization, and community food gardens are making a comeback to the capital. (In the last decade, there has been a renewed interest in the protection of local culinary traditions, so heritage produce and fruits — Pontoise cabbage, Montmagny dandelion, Argenteuil asparagus, Montmorency cherry, and the Faro apple have been back in vogue.) The City of Paris’ official municipal website listed fifty-eight community gardening sites in 2011.

     After the morning market trip to Marché Auguste-Blanqui, I set out to find a community garden in her neighborhood that a friend’s husband had stumbled across just a few weeks earlier.

Marché Auguste-Blanqui: Why would you shop at a grocery store in Paris when you can shop here three days a week in your own neighbourhood?Marché Auguste-Blanqui: The Tomato Guy!Purple carrots at the Marché Auguste-Blanqui, Paris.Cheese vendor at Marché Auguste-Blanqui, Paris(OK, enough about this market, but the range of food -- cooked, cured, raw, and fermented -- was inspiring. There were fish mongers scaling fish right on the street, rotisserie chicken vendors selling hot roast, whole chicken, market gardeners, a few clothing stands, and baked goods all happily co-existing at a street market that would never, ever be allowed to exist in North America due to our extreme love of regulating direct-to-consumer food sales.)


Jardins familiaux du boulevard de l’Hôpital community garden, 13th arrondissement, Paris, France, October 2, 2010

   The Jardins familiaux du boulevard de l’Hôpital community garden is squeezed between a 1960s French government subsidized-housing apartment block on one side and high-rent apartments on the other, and is accessible only by a sidewalk that cut between the two buildings. As we approached, we noticed a wiry grey-haired man fiddling with a row of grape vines, bifocals sliding toward end of his nose and an unlit cigarette dangling from his bottom lip. His crew neck sweater, à la Jacques Cousteau, had a few pulled threads. He could only have look more French if he was wearing a beret and had a baguette tucked under his arm as he pruned his vines.

The Community Garden from a different viewpoint.


     Griffault explained that had been gardening here for five years. Before then, he’d never as much watered a houseplant, having been born and has lived in the very same Paris neighborhood his whole life. “I was born in concrete, and I will die in concrete,” he declared rather enthusiastically. He learned to garden only when he got his plot, mostly by watching the other gardeners.

     As we slowly walked his little plot, he tested our knowledge in a type of name-that-plant agricultural quiz show. The radishes, a bay leaf tree, tomatoes, leeks, artichokes, celery, and strawberries were easy enough. He then moved on to more challenging plants, like lovage and cinnamon basil. His fearlessness in his gardening was endearing. For a Parisian-born Frenchman, his sense of international culinary adventure was impressive.

     He pulled a long, white, two-pound Daikon radish, the kind that gets grated into strings and piled on sushi plates in Japanese restaurants, wiped the sticky clay from it and handed it to Jesse, who really didn’t know what to make of it. He also had shiso, a spicy, floral Japanese basil, growing on his plot. An Antillean gardener has a chayote squash vine. Another has a stand of giant cabbage on remarkably long stocks. Some plots were like a United Nations of herbs, fruits, flowers and vegetables. We spotted a pumpkin too, definitely a non-traditional French food. And very late-bearing strawberries — it was the first weekend of October.

Griffault picks a ripe "Nipple of Venus" tomato

     And of course, his row of Chasselas grapes, though the 2010 humid conditions made them impossible to grow unaffected by moldy fungus. Nearby, he pointed to a pêche de vigne tree, a late-ripening peach, on a neighboring plot. Griffault told us that these peaches were traditionally planted among the grapevines as snacks for grape-pickers during harvest.


     “Nipple of Venus!” he shouted naughtily as we approached a tomato plant with purplish red tomatoes with a slightly pointed tips was his next stop. “It’s a new one we’re trying this year.” At this point, we were clearly pillaging from other gardeners’ plots. “Don’t worry, I’m allowed,” he reassured, waving his cigarette-holding hand over his head. As we walked he picked whatever was ripe and handed it to Jesse who was happily filling her cloth market bag.


 Direct to consumer is so normal in the French food economy of many cities.



(PS: I'm on a French kick these days because my friends from Paris came to visit me in Canada.)


The Paris Chapter

I have been a terrible blog updater for the past few months as I am dragging myself toward the end of my book manuscript. It has to be to the publisher in a few weeks. After that, I will catch my breath and start posting regularly again.

Today, I'm finishing the edits on my chapter on Paris. Here's a photo I snapped of a strange garden ornament(?), sculpture(?) that I came across as my friend, Jill, and I walked through her neighborhood in the 13th arrondissement.

It kind of represents how I feel right now. I may actually have plants growing inside my head at this point.

Perhaps an alternate cover image to Food and The City?


Urban Beehives in London, UK

OK, something lighter than the GMO discussion today...

When I was in London, I tried desperately to get an interview with the beekeeper from Fortnum & Mason, a posh grocer in a posh part of London. Didn't work out, but the reason I was so keen is that London has a thriving urban beekeeping scene. There's even a bit of rivalry between London  and Paris. But if you believe the numbers being reported, London is way ahead with 5000 hives according to a 2009 video report by Guardian food writer, Tim Hayward. Paris has about one-tenth, at 400-plus hives (according to a 2010 BBC news report).

Urban beekeeping in Europe is becoming an important "bee conservation" strategy, as the wild, rural bees of Europe seem to be in steep decline. Even the managed hives in the countryside are struggling, while urban bees are thriving. Urban beekeeping might be an important cornerstone of rebuilding damaged food ecosystems in the future.

Check out the great video of Tim Hayward interviewing F & M's beekeeper, Steve Benbow here.