Temporary carports that line a Montreal street are full of what you might least expect

Beccah Frasier, executive co-director of the Carrefour Solidaire Center Communautaire d'Alimentation, stands in front of a custom carport that hides a secret.  (Fenn Mayes/CBC - photo credit)

Beccah Frasier, executive co-director of the Carrefour Solidaire Center Communautaire d’Alimentation, stands in front of a custom carport that hides a secret. (Fenn Mayes/CBC – photo credit)

A collection of temporary carports draped in clear polycarbonate sheeting, rather than white plastic sheeting that flaps on windy days, has sprung up on a Montreal street this winter.

But these tempos are not for vehicles.

“On this street, in front of our greenhouses, it was just parking lots and now vegetables are growing,” said Héloise Koltuk.

She’s in Laboratoire sur l’agriculture urbaine, a Montreal-based organization focused on research and innovation in urban agriculture. It has partnered with a food advocacy group that Carrefour solidaire center communautaire d’alimentationand this is the second year the two nonprofits have been collaborating on this greenhouse initiative.

The modified tempos are not heated. They are passive solar greenhouses, carefully designed and managed to absorb heat during the day and slowly release that heat when outside temperatures drop.

Last winter was more of a test run, so adjustments were made. Despite rollercoaster temperatures that have soared and plummeted well below zero, greenery is bubbling out of the planters this winter.

“We chose plants that are easy to care for in cold temperatures,” says Émilie Klein, with Carrefour.

There are various types of lettuce and cabbage, as well as pak choi, radishes and other root vegetables. There are also Swiss chard, mustard, kale and kale.

Growing food in special containers

Tempos are between a bike path and an ice skating rink just east of downtown. Inside, hundreds of vegetables grow in 39 pots that can be covered and insulated if needed.

“Most plants only need about 12 inches of active soil for their roots to grow in,” Beccah Frasier said while giving a CBC News tour.

“These are smart pots. There’s a fabric you can grow most veggies in, no problem, and they work really well on the sidewalk.”

CLOCK | Take a Tour of Montreal’s Street Greenhouses:

Frasier, with Carrefoursaid the Tempos are being used because it would have been more complicated to get permits for a traditional greenhouse structure.

On Tuesday the pace was mild, with ground temperatures around 10 degrees. It gets pretty warm on sunny days because of the greenhouse effect, Frasier said.

“The greenhouse is so humid that we don’t have to water it from December to April,” says Klein.

Supported by the community

The project is located on Dufresne Street between Larivière and Rouen streets. A number of edible plants are grown out there in the summer, as the walkway is named Promenade des saveurs, French for Flavor Way. Passers-by harvest about three quarters of the food grown there.

With the paces set up at the initiative of the Municipality of Ville-Marie, the plants growing in it concentrate their sugars and proteins in their cells to lower their freezing temperature.

This in turn makes for delicious food – a little sweeter than in a summer garden.

Fenn Mayes/CBC

Fenn Mayes/CBC

Not only do the three Tempo greenhouses grow food for the community, but the project serves as a demonstration of what is possible within the city limits even in winter.

“Many counties don’t allow you to have a greenhouse on private property, but you can have a tempo to protect your car,” Frasier said.

Using a pace to grow food is a cheeky way to challenge municipal guidelines that allow people to protect their cars with plastic tents but prevent them from growing food at home, she said.

Montreal’s Urban Farming Strategy, launched in 2021, underscores the need for counties to relax regulations to allow for new and different types of food growing projects, including greenhouses.

Carrefour operates a pay-what-you-can community kitchen and partners with a nearby elementary school that enables children to plant, grow, and eat vegetables.

Leaders of the organization are now hoping that more community groups will take note of the Tempo greenhouse project and start planting in winter too.

“You’re never going to meet all of your food needs from one garden, and especially a public garden,” Frasier said, but at the same time, residents have shown support for street food-growing initiatives.

“So there’s definitely an aspect of food security that I think is important.”


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