Cities can also become vibrant spaces for change. Santropol Roulant is an inspiring example of urban agriculture in Montreal Canada. It shows how rooftops and kitchens can become sustainable productive spaces, places of exchange, collective work and solidarity, bringing food to people with loss of mobility or autonomy, and by doing so, breaking social isolation.
Cities are often busy, highly polluted places and the food we eat has often traveled numerous miles to get to our plates, leaving behind an enormous carbon footprint. What if we started turning that around? Last year, while in Canada during the World Social Forum, we met Carlo Primani from Santropol Roulant, a community organization whose philosophy is to break the social isolation that people with a loss of autonomy or a loss of mobility experience through sustainable food. It first started as a ‘meals on wheels’ organization, providing cooked menus to people who had difficulty to leave their homes. As time went by and the movement around sustainable agriculture and local, organic food grew in Montreal, Santropol Roulant decided to support urban agriculture and make it the basis of its organizational model. “We believe that the people who originally benefited from our services also had the right to access sustainable, organic, quality food”, says Carlo.
The building itself is a true example of how space in the city can be used to produce healthy, sustainable food, contribute to food security and help build a resilient community. While rooftops are destined to produce food, they also become spaces for learning and exchange on organic urban farming, for instance. Inside the building, we can find a kitchen where the food produced on the rooftops is transformed into cooked meals that will go to the ‘meals on wheels’ program. In the basement, we find the compost area. Here food waste and other derivatives are composted and once transformed into rich nutrients, it will then feed the rooftops, creating a rich cycle which strives to use resources in an efficient way avoiding unnecessary waste.
The project is so diverse that you can also find a bicycle repair shop. This is the backbone of the ‘meals on wheels’ service, as volunteers use bikes to transport the food – baskets or meals – to the different customers. “What is nice about this part of the project is that it seeks to create a meaningful link or relationship with the person to whom the food goes to. As the idea is to combat social isolation, the fact that we go to the consumer and that person has a chance to exchange a few moments with our volunteers, can be quite powerful”.
Today, the food produced on the rooftops of Santropol Roulant is not only destined, within organic baskets or cooked meals, to its original target group, but it extends to its volunteers, its partner organizations, and Montrealers more generally, who can also be part of this vibrant community in the city.