Food often travels hundreds, or thousands, of miles from producer to plate, and as such foods are chosen based on what can survive transportation from the farm to the city (and not based on what is healthiest or most sustainable). On an annual basis, Canada's food imports generate 3.3 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, with fruits and vegetables accounting for the greatest number of miles traveled from farm to consumer.
Montréal is a unique urban centre when it comes to embracing sustainable urban agriculture: over 10,000 citizens, or 1.5% of Montréal’s population is involved in the Community Garden Program, the largest municipal urban agriculture program in Canada; community gardens have their own land use designation and represent innovations in urban agriculture . Unfortunately, Montréal still relies heavily on industrial agriculture to feed the majority of its citizens. These combined factors make Montréal a focal point to study the possible range of solutions to the problems associated with industrial agriculture that affect all urban centres.
This project examines Montréal's urban agriculture practices with a specific focus on the Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough of Montréal. In particular,we highlight the problems and triumphs that this neighbourhood has encountered with its urban agriculture practices, and how it has become a model for year-round food production with the potential of feeding Montréal and other urban centres. Issues with Ahuntsic-Cartierville's model are discussed, and solutions suggested.
Introduction to Ahuntsic-Cartierville
The City of Montréal provides the following data on Ahuntsic-Cartierville:
Ahuntsic-Cartierville, population 129,069, is located on the banks of the Rivière des Prairies in the north end of Montréal.
33,570 (26%) are aged 25 and under, 72,269 (56%) are aged 26-64, and the remaining 23,230 (18%) are aged 65 or over. Consider the seniors population, 81% live alone, and 28.5% live below the low income threshold and spend 20% or more of their income on food, shelter, and clothing.
Ahuntsic-Cartierville is culturally diverse, with 44,445 (36%) of the population having been born outside of Canada. Housing is more affordable in Ahunstic-Cartierville than many other areas of Montréal, making it an attractive area for immigrants to settle.
Pre-Industrial: Iroquois and the Arrival of Europeans
When, in 1535, the unprecedentedly rapid waters of the St. Lawrence River forced the French explorer Jacques Cartier from his vessel, he traveled by foot to Hochelaga, an Iroquoian community located at present day Montréal 
Cartier met and traded with the aboriginal group that was later called the St. Lawrence Iroquoian. They were a partially settled group who lived in villages consisting of longhouses, which they inhabited all year round. However, every twelve years or so, when the soils were nutritionally depleted, the group would pack up the village and move to a new location. This cycle of relocation was intended to give area resources a chance to replenish their vital constituents .
As experienced farmers, the Iroquois cultivated fields of corn, beans, squash and sunflowers. As well, the Iroquois fished throughout the year, using of hooks and lines, harpoons and nets. In addition, the Iroquois were active hunters, preying on deer, moose and caribou, which they often traveled great distances beyond the island to acquire .
In 1603, when another French explorer, Samuel de Champlain visited the site, the Iroquois and their villages were gone. The disappearance of the Iroquois remains a great mystery among historians and archaeologists. For Champlain, the uninhabited island was a strategically ideal location to begin a fur trading settlement for the French colonial empire. Between 1642 and 1760, Ville Marie, as it was now called, developed from an ecologically important wetland habitat into a fortified, colonial town of great economic significance for European colonial strategists .
As a consequence of France’s defeat in the Seven Years War, their Canadian settlements were ceded to the British. Massive immigration, into what was now being called Montréal, began from Britain and from the British loyalists in America. With these arrivals, trading and craftwork temporarily expanded before giving way to the infrastructural necessities of a modernized urbanity and then to the spoils of industrialization .
City Modernization and Agriculture
Between 1850 and the Great Depression, Montréal became Canada’s leading metropolis. By 1931, the population had reached one million. Central to this modern development was the opening of the nation-spanning railway, the then new Canadian National Rail, which provided emerging markets key linkages and cemented the city as the transportation hub of Canada. This economic boom allowed infrastructure to expanded and modernize, and led commercial centers to retreat back from the fortified waterfront towards the mountain park. The project of spatial and economic expansion facilitated Montréal’s annexation of its neighbouring regions. As these regions developed, wealthier urbanites moved out from the city core to the burgeoning suburbs, greatly changing the organization of space and the allocation and flows of resources .
Before urbanization completely displaced agricultural land use on the island of Montréal, villages, now termed boroughs, were well served by centrally located farms, that produced crops, fruits and animals, and markets that distributed the food. The highly fertile island soils, grounded in the middle of what was once called, “the veritable heart of Quebec agrarian space,” efficiently accommodated all manners of sustenance for the island inhabitants. During the mid-nineteenth century, the expansion of industry and urban space, forced the modernization of island agriculture. Specifically, as the urban population grew, food demands in the core necessitated greater food production in the hinterland, both on and off the island. In response, farmers hoping to meet growing demands utilized the new technologies afforded them by industrialization and modernized their operations. Soon, the two-fold effect of encroaching urban space and the need for more agricultural space caused specialization to occur. On the island, farmers moved towards dairy operations, while off the island, farming villages expanded their production of cereal crops .
Problems with Industrial Agriculture
As outlined in the historical background provided in this article, the growth and development of cities like Montréal are linked to their food systems: where proximate food production and distribution systems are available to sustain inhabitants, civilizations thrive. The Iroquois were able to farm the land with crops, catch fish, and hunt wild game on the island, followed by the first European settlers that did the same.
Several factors have been identified that have led to a loss of farmland in and near urban areas, such as Montréal, and have resulted in a shift away from proximate food production and towards industrial agriculture in the latter half of the twentieth century: rural-to-urban migration, mechanized farming, long-distance food transportation, refrigeration, large-scale food processing, and modern land use policies prohibiting agricultural activity in urban centres .
Industrial agriculture has been able to meet the demands of rapidly growing urban populations, albeit at great costs to the environment and $2.5 billion in government subsidies in the form of direct support payments . Environmental costs and subsidies are associated with the production of our food yet not reflected its shelf price: our food costs more than price tags reflect..
More than traditional farming methods, industrial food production is more greenhouse gas emission intensive, and requires intensive use of a variety of inputs like energy, land, water, pesticides, fertilizers  . The following environmental and public health concerns are associated with the prevailing production methods :
- Monocultures are eroding biodiversity among both plants and animals.
- Synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers are polluting soil, water, and air, harming both the environment and human health.
- Soil is eroding much faster than it can be replenished—taking with it the land’s fertility and nutrients that nourish both plants and those who eat them.
- Water is consumed at unsustainable rates in many agricultural areas.
The ever enlarging environmental costs associated with feeding urban centres, such as Montréal is referred to as a city’s ecological footprint . The environmental burdens outlined above for Montréal’s food production have been shifted to distant food producers, extending Montréal’s ecological footprint with it.
As Montréal’s ecological footprint expanded in the latter half of the twentieth century, so did the risks associated with food security. Reliance on external food sources unavoidably accentuates the risks associated with fluctuating fuel costs, natural disasters, labour issues, supply and demand issues, and other disruptions. The physical disconnect between Montréal and its food production system can actually have an effect on Montréal as an urban centre, as described in this statement by Richard Feagan, a Canadian scholar and researcher of sustainable development and alternative food systems: “As people foster relationships with those who are no longer in their locale, distant others can structure the shape and use of the locale, a problem that is being explicitly rejected by those involved in the local food system movements across the globe” .
Understanding Urban Agriculture
In order to understand what is meant by the phrase “sustainable urban agriculture” and how sustainable urban agriculture is a part of the solution to the problems inherent in industrial agriculture, the terms “sustainable” and “urban agriculture” must be understood. Each definition also identifies the fundamental benefits of urban agriculture to Ahuntsic-Cartierville.
Berke and Conroy offer the following definition: “Sustainable development is a dynamic process in which communities anticipate and accommodate the needs of current and future generations in ways that reproduce and balance local social, economic and ecological systems, and link local actions to global concern.”
Brown identifies the following seven hallmarks of sustainable development planning:
- The viability of living systems is explicitly addressed
- The sustainable utilization of resources is explicitly addressed
- Competing social, economic and environmental objectives are highlighted and solutions that promote positive synergy between these three components are advanced
- Social equity within and between generations is promoted
- Qualitative and quantitative development perspectives are present
- Nested system functions form the basis of the analysis of current conditions and are used to assess the effects of interventions in social, economic and biophysical domains
- Development is considered to be an unfolding process that is responsive to outcomes, i.e. a “learning ecology”
Brown further identifies four principles that guide sustainable development plans: community as the heart of sustainable development, the wish for a better quality of life, the need to increase environmental protection, and the goal of achieving sustainable economic growth.
Finally, Brown  identifies the following six areas of intervention that are a part of sustainability:
- Reduction of greenhouse gases
- Reduction of water and energy consumption
- Responsible waste management
- Protection of the natural environment
- Enhancement of the quality of life in neighbourhoods
- Promotion of activities, management practices and decision-making processes that will support sustainable development
Defining Urban Agriculture
Sustainable urban agriculture embraces the principles outlined above to move towards a food system that is associated with environmentally and socially sustainable communities.
Horrigan offers the following definitions of sustainable agriculture:
- Sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals—environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity.… Sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
- Sustainable agriculture is a model of social and economic organization based on an equitable and participatory vision of development which recognizes the environment and natural resources as the foundation of economic activity. Agriculture is sustainable when it is ecologically sound, economically viable, socially just, culturally appropriate, and based on a holistic scientific approach.
- Sustainable agriculture does not refer to a prescribed set of practices. Instead, it challenges producers to think about the long-term implications of practices and the broad interactions and dynamics of agricultural systems. It also invites consumers to get more involved in agriculture by learning more about and becoming active participants in their food systems. A key goal is to understand agriculture from an ecological perspective— in terms of nutrient and energy dynamics, and interactions among plants, animals, insects and other organisms in agroecosystems— then balance it with profit, community and consumer needs.
Sustainable urban agriculture can take many forms, such as community and private gardens, edible landscaping, fruit trees, food-producing green roofs, aquaculture, farmers markets, small-scale farming, hobby beekeeping, and food composting  .
Introduction to Urban Agriculture in Ahuntsic-Cartierville
In recent years, Montréal’s entrepreneurs, universities, city planners and policymakers have proposed and implemented sustainable urban agriculture strategies to address the problems associated with industrial agriculture.
Ahuntsic-Cartierville has a total of nine community gardens and 1056 non-community gardens, totaling 6,336m2, five gardening collectives, and five seasonal community markets selling Ahuntsic-Cartierville’s agriculture . In addition, Ahuntsic-Cartierville is home to Montréal’s first commercial urban agriculture project: Lufa Farms.
To promote a healthy diet, the borough of Ahuntsic-Cartierville has identified in its Plan d'action de développement durable 2010‐2015 ‐ Ahuntsic‐Cartierville a series of actions it intends to take to support urban agriculture in the borough: participate actively in the implementation of a new, permanent public market; support seasonal markets in the district; and maintain financial and administrative support to community gardens .
The aforementioned issues surrounding the industrially produced food supply into the boroughs of Montréal highlight the need for locally produced urban agriculture. As previously outlined, the residents of Montréal have, since 1974, recognized the need for, and benefits of, locally produced food, and since then they have acted as a collective community to create and protect a local food source 
Community members have worked with city officials to create several networks of urban agriculture spaces and collectives to ensure that Montréal is not solely reliant on outside food sources. The following information lays out current urban agriculture projects that are underway in the boroughs of Montréal (including Ahuntsic-Cartierville) the type of project they are, how large the project is and its supporting organization.
There are various community agriculture programs within the City of Montréal. The City of Montréal is responsible for 98 community gardens which serve community members and provide fresh fruit and vegetable to lower income neighbourhoods.
Ahuntsic-Cartierville has five community gardens, including Jardin Saint-Sulpice, Montréal's largest community garden. The 98 community gardens in Montréal produce enough food to reach an estimated 10,000 people each year, one of North America’s largest community garden programs .
There are also several privately ran community garden collectives such as the Collective Gardens of Villeray, ran by the Maison de Quartier de Villeray and the Collective Gardens of Notre Dame de Grâce, both of which operate in boroughs surrounding the Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough. These gardens use space on local school grounds, areas belonging to the community and volunteered private land, all of which serve to provide fresh local food to the communities involved. Many of these organizations also have an educational component of their programs, educating community members on the importance of healthy cooking and eating habits. These gardens require the need for a lot of community involvement, serving as a social development tool for people looking to become involved in their food supply and their community through volunteer positions and outreach programs. Collaborating with these local community outreach program (such as meals on wheels) many of these community gardens are able to provide fresh produce to low income neighbourhoods, the elderly and marginalized members of the community.
The Rooftop Garden Project
The Rooftop Garden Project was introduced into Montréal by the sustainable action group, Alternatives, in 2003 as an alternative to the traditional land based community garden. These rooftop gardens grow the plants hydroponically and therefore avoid the upfront and continuous cost of soil. Plants grow in self-watering pots and planters, reducing the amount of work needed to maintain the plants. The four gardens are placed in various locations around the city including schools, retirement homes, daycares and colleges. They rely on volunteers from these centres to maintain the gardens; the fruits and vegetables produced in the gardens are then given back to the community members and volunteers through educational cooking programs and community outreach programs.
Outdoor community garden production is limited by the amount of volunteers they have and by Montréal’s limited growing season due to their cold winters. All of the community gardens discussed above require thousands of volunteers to maintain them. These gardens do not sell, or sell very little of their produce (through community meal programs) and cannot provide the community with produce during the winter months. These factors can act as barriers to people who do not have the time or the interest in becoming involved with community gardens yet want to have access to locally grown produce in the summer and winter. For the 98.5% of Montréal’s population who are not involved in its community gardens there are new and innovative commercial urban agriculture initiatives that are starting up within the city.
Lufa Farms: Commercial Urban Agriculture
Lufa Farms is a rooftop urban agriculture company that currently operates a 31,000 square foot rooftop farm on top of an office building in Ahuntsic-Carterville, Montréal. This farm produces 25 types of vegetables year round and sells baskets directly to their customers for between $22 and $42 per week, depending on the size of the basket and variety of produce . The design behind the rooftop green houses allows for flexibility in the types of buildings they are on, enabling the company to envision “a city of rooftop farms”. Lufa Farms greenhouses are designed to “optimize urban growing conditions for our plants and to do so in an environmentally sustainable and responsible way” using collected rain water to water the plants, a bio-control pest management system to avoid the use of chemical pesticides and a high-tech monitoring system to reduce energy needs and improve plant health. The farm is able to grow produce year round and relies on the heat from the building below to maintain the necessary greenhouse temperature .
Having a commercial urban farm allows residents within Montréal to have the benefits of locally grown produce without having to contribute their time and work into a community garden.
Lufa Farms, currently, is only operating the one rooftop farm in Ahuntsic-Carterville which restricts their production capacity, however, on October 9th 2012, Lufa completed a $4.5 million dollar financing drive to secure the expansion of their company in Quebec, and, potentially expanding into Ontario and the United States. This expansion will create an additional 200,000 square feet of operational rooftop farms to supply over 5000 families in Quebec with fresh local food year round . This expansion highlights Lufa's vision of having a "city of rooftop farms". With the enormous start-up costs and the building specifications needed an entire city of rooftop farms may not be possible with the Lufa model, but it does highlight the potential to have wide scale inner-city agricultural production year round, without the reliance on smaller scale community gardens.
Issues with Urban Agriculture in Ahuntsic-Cartierville
Population vs. Production Capacity
The current urban agriculture network within Montréal may be one of North America’s largest, yet the city still imports the majority of its food as the community gardens only reach a small percentage of the population. This serves members of the community who are within the reach of the organizations running the outreach programs and the members of the community gardens; however, the produce from these gardens is not available to non-members who are not within the marginalized groups served by the outreach programs.
There are conventional organic and non-organic farms within close proximity to the City, however they have a limited selection of produce available in the fall and winter months. In addition, these farms still require the produce to be packed and driven into the city, require large amounts of agricultural land and still face the many issues conventional industrial farming faces, as discussed earlier.
Lufa Farms, while a model for year round agriculture production in Ahuntsic-Cartierville, is the only commercially run urban agriculture project within the city of Montréal. To expand on their vision of a "city of rooftop farms" Lufa has a chapter of their website which allows owners of buildings to enquire about having a Lufa rooftop farm installed on their roof. Lufa would install and maintain the farm, allowing building owners to participate in urban agriculture without having to take on the costs and responsibility of running their own garden. Increasing the number of rooftop farms situated in the city of Montreal to outside the Ahuntsic-Cartierville region would reduce the gap between the amount of locally grown food supplied to the city and the demand coming from the people within Montreal.
Urban Land Use
Community gardens, while serving as an important social development tool within communities, occupy valuable retail and residential space when converted into garden space, which may not be viable in areas where there is pressure to develop the land or in high density areas . It is not always economically viable to occupy high-value urban land for non-profit, government-subsidized community gardens. As outdoor urban agriculture projects are also highly seasonal the land that is used for urban agriculture lays dormant, or not highly productive for the majority of the year, only really being used at its full capacity during the summer months. This further increases the overall cost operating an urban farm on valuable urban land.
Additionally, in respect to rooftop garden projects there are only certain types of buildings eligible for supporting a Lufa style rooftop garden: Lufa Farms suggest that 10% of Canadian commercial rooftops could support a Lufa Farm . This is due to the a certain set of requirements potential buildings must meet to be able to support a rooftop farm these include the building having to have more than 40,000 square feet of available rooftop space, ideally over 100,000 square feet, this is to ensure that the farm will become profitable.
The Montréal Community Sustainable Action Plan 2010-2015 states that “Montréal is confirming its commitment to making sustainable development the foundation on which the city is built” and focusing on “aim[ing] to achieve nine major and specific sustainable development objectives, seven of which have a target attached to them” . Although the Sustainable Action Plan is comprehensive in many areas, it fails to mention anything about urban agriculture or community food security.
In response to this, there was a major outpour of support for a policy amendment brought to light by the Project Montréal party. They brought forward 29,000 signatures to the Office de consultation publique de Montréal, requesting that they review and reform several areas within their community action plan to protect urban agriculture in Montréal. In light of the Office de consultation publique de Montréal responded by releasing a report which aimed to “complete a profile of urban agriculture initiatives in Montréal, to identify obstacles to the activity's development, and to define development possibilities in tune with Montréal policies” .
Seasonal Restrictions on Food Production
There is a lack of locally produced food available to consumers during the winter season, as community gardens cannot grow produce outdoors in the colder months. The issue of the seasonal availability of fresh local produce is yet to be recognized by the Montréal Sustainable Action Plan, even after the proposed amendments put forward by the Office de consultation publique de Montréal on October 17th 2012. Lufa Farms addresses the need for year round, locally grown produce within the Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough, and further, the city of Montréal, however it has its limits. Currently, Lufa Farms is only able to supply a relatively small number of consumers with fresh produce year round, and as such there would have to be many more operations similar to this in order to supply all the people of Montréal with fresh local produce.
Financial Restrictions to Food Production
The start-up cost for the Lufa prototype rooftop farm totalled about $2 million Canadian dollars, an enormous expense to those wanting to create similar businesses . This high initial investment could act as a barrier to companies and communities looking to create inner-city farming projects such as the Lufa Farms rooftop farm model. Other urban agriculture projects, such as the Rooftop Garden Project have much lower start up costs however they operate on a much smaller scale and only operate seasonally, factors which could contribute to this type of urban agriculture not being a commercially viable option for companies looking to produce enough produce to sell on a regular basis to the general community.
Solutions to the Problems of Urban Agriculture in Ahuntsic-Cartierville
Re-direct Government Subsidies to Sustainable Practices
Although $2.5 billion in annual direct payments are made to agricultural producers across Canada, only $275 million dollars is directed towards research and market production . Rather than making these costly direct payments to farmers, the government could be allocating a greater portion of funds to research initiatives that would modernize Canada's agricultural practices. Ideally, the modernization of Canada's agriculture practices would entail a shift away from the environmentally disastrous practices of industrial agriculture and towards sustainable urban agriculture practices.
For instance, Ahuntsic-Cartierville's Lufa Farms is a good start towards sustainable commercial rooftop gardening; however, with its $2 million price tag, it is not within the financial means of very many small business operators to open a similar facility. Government funds, if redirected from direct payments to farms and into research, could find means to make the technology behind the Lufa Farms model less cost prohibitive.
Government subsidies can be redirected to tax incentives for building owners to encourage more businesses to open their rooftops to gardening. Building owners would not only save in energy costs by having a rooftop garden, but also pay less taxes.
Government subsidies could also be reallocated to financial grants for urban agriculture entrepreneurs that present a viable plan for financial independence (non-reliance on subsidies) and with the potential of feeding local residents on a year-round basis.
Remove Policy Restrictions
The Montrèal Urban Agriculture Movement has outlined a few municipal restrictions that are hindering Montrèal's citizens from participating in urban agriculture including:
- Chickens are not allowed to be kept domestically, restricting people from having access to fresh local eggs and poultry
- House owners are not allowed to convert their driveways into gardening space, this reduces the amount of space they might have to participate in small scale urban agriculture
- Municipal restrictions on backyard composting, preventing citizens from participating in environmentally sound practices at home.
These municipal restrictions could be easily altered as to support Montrèal residents to participate in small scale urban agriculture at home. The political party, the Montreal Project, was the organizing body behind mobilizing the community to bring to light the lack of government focus on the protection and expansion of urban agriculture. Within their proposal they put forward 13 suggestions to the Office de consultation publique de Montréal to protect, develop and expand urban agriculture within Montreal. They are as follows, translated from the original:
- Recognize urban agriculture as a development and include it in City planning
- Allow the practice of urban agriculture in many urban areas
- Integrate urban agriculture into urban design
- Implement urban agriculture initiatives on City land and integrate its infrastructure and buildings
- Incorporate fruit and nut trees in greening programs
- Increase the supply of land available for development of community gardens and community
- Provide municipal services to support urban agriculture and provide training services and information
- Develop model regulations for the implementation of urban greenhouses
- Promote the emergence of small farmers in specific areas
- Adapt and improve programs and financial incentives to support agricultural industries in the city
- Increase the number of public markets and permit the sale of products from individual and collective gardens
- Promote the urban and peri-urban agriculture through cooperatives and campaigns
- Place the Urban Agriculture Department under the direction of the department of Environment and Sustainable Development
In response to these recommendations the Office de consultation publique de Montréal released a report identifying the issues brought up by Projet Montreal. Their solutions to the issues discussed cover several areas including: “the call for an integrated and broad vision of urban agriculture; the explicit recognition of the role of urban agriculture in municipal land-use planning documents and policies; and the protection of what has been acquired to date, the perpetuation of initiatives, and the structuring of activities.” .
Increase Opportunities for Year-Round Production
One of the main issues with Montréal’s current urban agriculture model is the lack of year-round produce availability. Lufa farms addresses this issue, however as discussed above their reach is restricted due to costs and space. In the article Sustainable urban agriculture: stocktake andOpportunities, Pearson et al. describe the three scales of urban arigulture as outlined in Table 1:
|Type of Scale||Examples||Ownership|
|Micro||Green roofs & walls,
Courtyards, Backyards, Street verges.
Individual collective gardens (allotments) Urban parks.
|Private, on public
land, Private, Public.
|Macro||Commercial-scale farms, e.g. turf, dairy,orchard, grazing (e.g.horses)
Nurseries & Greenhouses: floriculture and vegetables
If there was an expansion in the Micro urban agriculture category there could theoretically be an increase of locally produced food available year-round. To increase the availability during the winter months Micro-scale urban agriculture projects would have to rely on technologies such as indoor gardening, small-scale vertical gardening and container gardening. These technologies are designed to maximize space while allowing for fruits and vegetables to be grown indoors. This reduces the issue of seasonal availability of local produce and extends the reach of urban agriculture to people living in any type of home. Increasing consumer incentives on products like these (such as tax breaks) could increase the usage of systems like this in the Montreal area.
As discussed earlier the Lufa farm is one solution to year round local produce yet as of now its reach is still quite small. The idea of Macro-scale farms has been around since the early 20th century yet there are no large-scale vertical farms. A large-scale vertical farm, such as the ones suggested by the Vertical Farm Project, could increase the year round production of locally produced food in the Montreal area on a Macro scale.
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<ref>tag; name "Doray" defined multiple times with different content
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- Pearson, Leonie J., Linda Pearson, and Craig J. Pearson.( 2010) "Sustainable urban agriculture: stocktake and opportunities."International Journal Of Agricultural Sustainability 8, no. 1/2: 7-19. GreenFILE, EBSCOhost (accessed November 24, 2012).