How a Quebec community is setting the standard for urban gardening

As citizens across Quebec reclaim their city's public spaces, Victoriaville stands as one of the front-runners. The city has set out to encourage community gardens and attract people to the downtown core.

Community spaces and garden boxes can be found across Victoriaville, Que.

Sophie Legault says front yards often get more sun than backyards where there are more trees. (Julia Page/CBC)

​Victoriaville, Que., has long defended its title as the greenest city in the province.

It was one of the first municipalities in the province to implement door-to-door composting back in 1998 and offers incentives for ecological home construction materials.

''People tell us they move to Victoriaville because they want to adhere to the movement that is happening here,'' said city manager Martin Lessard.

Lessard said the city of 45,000, 170 kilometres northeast of Montreal, has invested more than $8 million to refurbish the downtown core and make it a place residents want to spend time in.

Victoriaville has set itself a new goal for 2017: to install 100 shared garden boxes throughout town.

It was awarded a $15,000 grant from the Community Fund for Canada's 150th in order to realize that initiative.

The wooden boxes, equipped with signs letting people know the produce is for the taking, are set up on people's front lawns, at restaurants, and in other public spaces.

Green lettuce instead of green grass

Sophie Legault says adding a box to her front yard was a great way to spend more time with her neighbours.

''People are always stopping by to ask questions. We have to convince them to pick the tomatoes when they're ready,'' she said.

Legault is no stranger to the urban gardening trend. Amidst the green lawns and asphalt driveways of her residential neighbourhood, tomato plants, grape vines and rows of vegetables cover more than half of her front yard.
The Simard-Legault front yard garden includes edible flowers, greens, grape vines and a an apple tree. (Julia Page/CBC)

''There are huge maple trees in the back of the house that block the sun and have thick roots,'' she said, explaining that the front of the house, which gets full sunlight, is more suited for a garden.

Legault's sons, Jasmin and Philémon, are responsible for gathering the eggs from the backyard hen house every morning.
10-year-old Philémon and 7-year-old Jasmin Simard gathering fresh eggs from their backyard. (Julia Page/CBC)

While many cities are still grappling with the concept of urban agriculture, Legault says Victoriaville encourages it.

''We see how far food is travelling, we see the damage that comes with the industrial food industry, and we cannot completely stop it,'' she said.

''But if have a few plants and a few fruit trees instead of just pretty trees we can become more self-sufficient.''
The Legault-Simard family have three hens in their backyard, a practice the city of Victoriaville allows contrary to many other municipalities in Quebec. (Julia Page/CBC)

Reconnecting with food

Another hallmark of the city's commitment to urban gardening is "Le Jardin des rendez-vous," a collective space that transformed a busy industrial street corner into a vibrant nature park.

''We grow tons of veggies; from cabbages to zucchinis to tomatoes, and everything that is in the garden is free for the picking,'' said Viola Ferrando, an organic agriculture student at the Cégep de Victoriaville who works at the garden.
Cégep student Viola Ferrando standing in front of the young apple trees that were added to the garden's orchard. (Julia Page/CBC)

Born in Montreal, Ferrando said kids are amazed to actually see where their food comes from and what it looks like on the stalk.

"It allows us to reconnect with what it means to nourish ourselves."

The city collaborated with local group Incredible Edibles to set up the garden. Students like Ferrando spend a few hours a week greeting people and giving them gardening tips.

Residents can stroll through three separate sections: an organic orchard, a forest garden with indigenous medicinal plants and a giant communal garden.

Citizens are also encouraged to help take care of the garden and learn techniques.

Ferrando said it's all part of the city's desire to beautify public spaces, but also put them to good use. 

''You can't feed people with roses,'' said Ferrando.
The Incredible Edibles in Victoriaville put up signs to help people know more about the plants and their upkeep. (Julia Page/CBC)

Spreading the word

The city is throwing a party at the garden Sept. 17 as part of its Canada's 150th celebrations.

L'Incroyable fête des récoltes will celebrate the city's abundant harvest and hopes to attract even more residents to the concept of urban gardening.

The city will be hosting its fourth forum on sustainable development on Sept. 5 to 6, where it invites municipalities from across Quebec to share good practices and develop new ideas.