Montreal, the concrete jungle where vines grow

The Urban Agriculture lab is supporting agricultural projects within the city of Montreal – projects aimed not at filling your plates up but making you think

Montreal is a popular city for urban farms — more than 4.3 square kilometers of agricultural land around the island according to the Louis Bonduelle Foundation, an international organization dedicated to sustainable food missions.

Some of these farms are in the west of the island and despite being called urban farms, they are traditional farms in less urbanized areas of the island. The Urban Agriculture Lab (AU/LAB) is taking urban agriculture a step further by developing innovative agricultural techniques and connecting motivated individuals with land for their projects.

Vignes en ville is the success story of the Urban Agriculture Lab. Launched in 2017, and supported by the Urban Agriculture Lab, its vineyards are planted on five different roofs around Montreal.

“Urban agriculture is not meant to nourish the city,” said Véronique Lemieux, the founder of Vignes en ville. It shifts the focus from an unrealistic ideal of a city fed by its roof gardens, and chimeric proximity agriculture that relies on subsidies to survive, showing the lack of real need or interest from the inhabitants.

Education is the focus of urban agriculture; “It allows people that don’t necessarily have access to the soil to discover new ingredients, texture, colours.” said Lemieux.

She mentioned that some people don’t know what a potato plant looks like because they are not exposed to potato plants in their daily lives and don’t need to be. Yet, knowing what a plant looks like implies you know how it grows but also how hard it is to make it grow — giving value to the products.

Lemieux’s goal is to create initiatives that “bring a real solution. The point is not to be in competition with bio-intensive farmers, there are families behind these farms.”

The lab is developing innovative forms of agriculture by using existing agricultural knowledge and adapting it to the city’s needs: what needs to be produced, or recycled.

Vignes en ville, with the help of the Urban Agriculture Lab, responded to a need to recycle glass in the city: the sandy soil needed by the vine to grow can be replaced by crushed glass from used bottles, which avoids having to bring sand from mines from outside of the city. “You can’t destroy nature to develop agriculture in the city,” said Lemieux. According to Lemieux, 20,000 glass bottles were recycled in partnership with the SAQ, supplying a total of 345 vines around the roofs of the city, all with glass enriched soil.

The Urban Agriculture Lab’s new project, MontréalCulteurs, is a program inspired by the Parisculteur program launched in Paris in 2016. It links people with an empty plot of land, an available roof, basement, parking lot or any available space to facilitate urban agriculture businesses in need of space.

The Vignes en ville project is the perfect example: launched before the start of MontréalCulteurs, Lemieux had to approach the Urban Agriculture Lab proactively and convince them to start the Vignes en Villes project. The Urban Agriculture Lab is currently taking applications for starting urban agriculture companies via their email. The application needs to have a clear plan to start the project before 2023 and to be able to generate at least $5,000 in sales.

With just under 50 projects around the island, the Urban Agriculture Lab helps Montreal to be a leader in urban agriculture.

If you’re interested in projects like what the Urban Agriculture Lab is doing, contact the organization and the next Montreal melon roof farm project could be yours.

Photos by Kaitlynn Rodney


The shawarma master plan

 Boustan expands into Ontario

Boustan is expanding to Toronto, but its new location in Scarborough is only part of what could be the master plan to conquer the GTA – one pita plate at a time.

“Toronto has a lot of shawarma restaurants. But Boustan, it’s a unique flavor,” said Mohammed Khalid Iqbal, the owner of the new franchise, located on Lawrence Ave., Scarborough, Ontario.

“Toronto is a big market, bigger than Montreal,” said Iqbal. “We will go even further actually. We are talking to people in Hamilton, in Niagara Falls. The plan is to have 50 new locations in the next five years.” Boustan’s plans are ambitious, considering their humble origins as a Montreal neighborhood Lebanese spot.  

Boustan’s first location was opened in 1986. Imad Smaidi, known to regulars as Mr. Boustan, ran the small location down a flight of stairs on Crescent St. until 2012. Smaidi made it a hotspot for late night, tasty Lebanese food where ex-Prime minister Pierre Trudeau would occasionally visit.

Smaidi sold the restaurant in 2012, and it has not stopped growing since. The chain went from five locations scattered around Montreal in 2016 to currently having over 40 restaurants open as far as Ottawa and Quebec City.

“I’m really looking forward to the shawarma war,” said Liam Earle, a Concordia student from Toronto and top 0.02 per cent Boustan customer at their St. Catherine St. location according to UberEatsats. “Ali Baba is finally going to have some competition,” he said, referring to another well-established Middle Eastern restaurant chain in the GTA. 

Boustan is also welcoming new franchisees. Their website states opening a Boustan franchise is “an affordable investment starting from $125,000.” Along with the name, franchisees are supervised and receive the input of an operations team.

When asked about the goal of the new location, Iqbal said that the spot is “for people from Toronto but [also for] people who know us from Montreal.”

The question now is, will Boustan go even further west? “I don’t know of any shawarma place in Vancouver as famous as Boustan,” said Isaac Tetreault, a Concordia student from B.C. 

Tetreault says it would be great if Boustan expanded out west. While Iqbal said that plans to open in Vancouver aren’t yet on the table, the franchise opening in Toronto seems to be the first step of what could be a rapid expansion across Canada.

Graphics by Maddy Schmidt


Techno and house with a Montreal touch

Marbré is ready to take over the city’s electronic music scene

At the end of a corridor, mimicking the atmosphere of the Paris catacombs, lasers are skimming through the room, creating an atmosphere blending visuals and sound draped in blue light. While Jean, also known under his stage name Salem, is behind the turntables for his first set, other members of Marbré are getting ready to take over the set until 3 a.m.

But before becoming a music collective, these young men were primarily a group of friends. Hector, Jean, Pierre, Benjamin, Jules, Simons, Lucas, Ezer, and Nico, who wish to remain anonymous as part of their collective image, all share a passion for electronic music that pushed them to form Marbré in September of 2019.

The eight McGill students created Marbré with the main goal being to democratize all aspects of electronic music through their passion for mixing. “We are on a large spectrum of electronic music; listening to different styles,” said Jean, who is in charge of communications. “We can give the people a taste of all the other genres that exist.”

“That’s what we are trying to do in our sets, to transfer from techno, to tech-house, to deep-house,” said Lucas, the graphic designer of the collective. “To gather as many genres as possible.” They demystify what is happening behind the turntables and shed light on the creative process behind DJing.

The collective found a frenetic audience at both of their house-style shows that promises them a bright future. “We have to learn how to control the energy we get as this project begins,” said Nico, one of Marbré’s DJs. “The hype that we got from the night at the Belmont was not expected.”

Yet, the success of their performances does not seem to trouble the members of Marbré. “We need to stay in contact with reality, keep our feet on the ground, our hands on the plates,” said Lucas, with a laugh.

On Jan. 23 at the Velvet-Auberge St-Gabriel, Marbré had their first show as La Marbre, the name used to distinguish their techno performances. “The idea was to develop something that was more tech,” said Hector. “To continue the big house events that everyone loves but also to develop a more techno branch—something deeper.”

La Marbre will also allow them to incorporate visuals and VJing, starting with the lasers at the Velvet, which is more adapted to techno music.

Electronic music has a whole community, mostly based on SoundCloud, who come together to “dig” and share their favourite tracks. Artists dig tracks that they intend to analyze up to the last beat to use them during their performances.

“Mixing is about knowing your tracks,” said Pierre, another of the group’s DJs. “You have to listen to a track again and again to know what comes next. If you had cut the treble when a voice comes in, you’re fucked!”

According to all the members of the collective, this aspect of DJing is crucial to a set: they all talk about their hours of digging to find the “gem,” as they call it.

“Groups like Chasse et Pêche, Kizi Garden and Turning Point paved the way for us,” Pierre said. “Here in Montreal, we can really do whatever we want. There is a saturation in larger markets that makes it more professional.” The scene allows them to express their diverse style and have complete freedom in their sets.

Their upcoming performance on Feb.13 will be the next chapter of La Marbre at the Velvet, further exploring the darker musical side of the collective.     


Photo courtesy of Ezer Berdugo

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