Enhancing urban agriculture

Demand for local food is increasing, and cities across Canada are finding ways to support local production. Growing food in urban areas increases food security, reduces carbon emissions, and provides opportunities for social interaction and community cohesion.

This urban agriculture project amends Winnipeg’s two zoning by-laws. The amendments (outlined in a 2018 Council directive) allow food to be produced (indoors or outdoors) and sold in more places throughout Winnipeg. These amendments were passed at Council on March 17, 2021.

Learn more about this project

Why is the City doing this?

In December 2017, the Winnipeg Food Council began to research where in Winnipeg to allow commercial agricultural uses. This is because:

  1. There is underutilized land in all areas of Winnipeg. This includes empty lots, as well as front and back yards.
  2. Demand for locally produced food is growing, which creates more local economic opportunities.
  3. The Winnipeg Zoning By-law currently does not have language to regulate smaller-scale urban agriculture initiatives.
  4. Producing local food is a way to reduce greenhouse gases and reduce the impacts of climate change.
  5. Other major Canadian cities are also finding ways to encourage urban agriculture and increase local food production.

How did these changes to urban agriculture come about?

The changes are a result of a 2018 report, and involve:

  • Growing food outdoors as a main (principle) use throughout the city
  • Growing food indoors in both industrial and most commercial areas
  • Permitting sales of produce in commercial and institutional areas, as well as larger parks (with permission of the landowner)
  • Ensuring a streamlined permitting process for people wanting to grow food for resale

How is urban agriculture different than my backyard garden?

Backyard gardens are already allowed as an accessory (secondary) use to principal (main) uses like houses or commercial buildings. The changes allow for outdoor growing as a principal (main) use in all areas of the City, provided the grower complies with all municipal, provincial, and federal regulations. These changes also enable indoor food production in more areas of Winnipeg.

Doesn’t the City already allow indoor operations like vertical gardening and aquaculture?

Yes, indoor food production is already allowed in industrial areas. The changes would allow indoor urban agriculture not only in industrial areas but in some commercial areas as well.

Do we want food to be produced in more areas of Winnipeg?

As demand for locally produced food grows, jurisdictions across the world are changing where urban agriculture is allowed, and how to maintain existing character and scale of neighbourhoods even as changes are made.

There are gardens on vacant lots around Winnipeg. How is this project different from what I already see?

Community and allotment gardens are already allowed on vacant land but gardens operated by individuals are currently not permitted.

I have a garden in my yard. Would this mean I’d have to apply for a permit?

In most cases, gardens are accessory uses to principal (main) uses like residential buildings, and do not require a permit. This project does not affect accessory gardens; permits are only be required if a garden was being established as a principal (main) use on a residential lot.

What about soil contaminants?

The Province of Manitoba regulates soil contaminants, but it is expected that anyone growing food comply with these regulations.

What about cannabis?

Growing cannabis is regulated by the federal government and involves a separate and vigorous application process.

Will this increase traffic in my neighbourhood?

Sales in residential areas are evaluated on a case-by-case basis and, if permitted, should not affect the character of the neighbourhood.

What if I want to buy produce, where do I go?

With these changes, selling is permitted in commercial or institutional areas as well as park areas, but only with permission of the landowner(s). Check with local producers to see where and how they distribute their produce. The Direct Farm Manitoba website has information on farms, markets, and pick-up locations.

What about backyard chickens?

Although the City of Winnipeg Zoning By-law currently allows laying hens as a conditional accessory use (aviary) in residential areas, the City of Winnipeg Responsible Pet Ownership By-law states that chickens may only be raised in agricultural areas. The latter by-law takes precedence over the former.

Does this allow people to grow food in parks

Wherever food is grown requires permission from the landowner who, for parks, would be the City. The report recommends that a policy be established (or updated) to help figure out who can benefit from use of public land, which would require further research and public consultation.

Was the public consulted as part of this process?

In 2017 and 2018, the Winnipeg Food Council and the City of Winnipeg spoke with urban growers, and researched Winnipeg by-laws and policies, as well as national best practices. This 2018 report includes recommendations, and the proposed zoning by-law changes are the result of these recommendations.

Because of their technical nature, consultation involved internal members of the public service with zoning, permitting, planning, community development, and urban growing experience. In addition, external stakeholders who have experience with urban growing were consulted, to ensure their needs, visions, and livelihoods are reflected in the proposed changes.

What do the changes look like?

All parcels of land in the city of Winnipeg are assigned a zoning category, or ‘zone’. Each zone has specific rules about allowed land uses (e.g. office, retail sales, residential, agriculture), in any particular zone.

The changes mean that two new land uses – “Urban Agriculture, Indoor” and “Urban Agriculture, Outdoor” – have been added to the zoning by-law, to allow for outdoor urban agriculture throughout the city; and indoor urban agriculture in both industrial areas (where it’s already allowed) and some commercial areas.

How does this connect with existing City policy and plans?

These recommendations are consistent with OurWinnipeg, which directs the City to respond to food needs as identified by communities.

The recommendations also align with key direction 1.7 of the Winnipeg Climate Action Plan, to “Increase Opportunities to Respond to Food Needs Throughout Winnipeg and Increase Access to Local and Sustainable Food.”

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