“Terres noires”: the Jardins-de-Napierville RCM agricultural community experiments with collective management

Bringing together local stakeholders in the largest commercial-gardening basin in Québec, the “Terres noires” project seeks to support the sustainability, resilience, and regeneration of an agro-ecosystem that is particularly vulnerable to climate change. Its goal is to co-develop a collective-management model for agricultural producers.

The challenge of protecting black soil

Formerly a highly fertile wooded wetland, the black-soil basin of the Jardins-de-Napierville RCM has been transformed into an intensive agricultural zone that produces more than 40 percent of Quebec’s vegetables. These agricultural lands ensure Québec’s food autonomy, the economic vitality of the region, the preservation of local biodiversity in specific habitats such as woodlands and wetlands, and the safeguarding of endangered species. They therefore represent a common benefit that must be cared for.

Photo credit: CLD des Jardins-de-Napierville

This cultivable area is threatened in multiple ways, however. Climate change subjects the land to problems associated with flooding, irrigation, pests, and loss of soil quality and quantity. Conflicts of use and obstructions to land-management planning arise out of the complexity of existing regulations and the privatization of commercial-gardening land. In addition, the interests and responsibilities of the various stakeholders in the same sector can be divergent or even mutually opposed.

In this context, finding solutions that are acceptable to all parties can be difficult. The laws, regulations, and financial mechanisms intended to regulate and support the conservation of this fertile land have thus far failed to rally the agricultural and non-agricultural communities around a common vision and values.

If technical and social innovations are not quickly adopted, vegetable farming as we know it could die out in the region within 50 years.

“The situations experienced by agricultural producers vary greatly from one tract of land to another. While one farm may be facing a flooding problem, its neighbour may be facing drought, and actions taken to address one problem very often exacerbate another. It is much the same with pest management, in which the actions of one farm can influence the situation in the fields of its neighbours. We want to find solutions to break these impasses and improve the environment, and working to manage our black soil collectively is a step in the right direction.”

Marie-Pierre Maurice, biologist and environmental team leader, Groupe PleineTerre (2023)

Conceiving a new collective-management model

Major challenges must be met to ensure the sustainability of the black soil of southern Quebec. This is why the Centre local de développement des Jardins-de-Napierville (CLD), the Jardins-de-Napierville RCM, the Pôle d’excellence en lutte intégrée (PELI), the Groupe PleineTerre and PRISME / Phytodata advisory clubs, and the Maison de l’innovation sociale (MIS) are supporting agricultural producers both in co-creating a collective-management model for black soil and in exploring regulatory and financial innovation.

“This project [of collective management of black earth deposits] involves many actors with sometimes competing responsibilities and diverging interests. For this reason, it’s difficult to implement collective solutions, especially those related to water quality and biodiversity. This is why we called upon the MIS to support us in the development of a transition plan for collective and sustainable management of the resources of the agricultural territory of the MRC des Jardins-de-Napierville. Since social innovation is at the heart of the process, the alliance with the MIS was a natural one, given its expertise in an approach that values co-creation with the actors in the field.”

Isabelle Matteau, Coordinator of the Pôle d’excellence en lutte intégrée, CLD Jardins-de-Napierville (2021)

Photo credit: Youssef Shoufan

This process includes exercises and workshops aimed at deepening the participants’ understanding of three key collective-management themes that they have identified: water management, soil-conservation practices, and collective pest management. Participants also explore potential financial mechanisms and analyze the impact of legislation and regulation on current and desired agro-environmental practices. Throughout, the community is mobilized and engaged in the development of solutions related to the collective-management plan.

“With the ‘Terres noires’ project, we are dealing with a subject of extreme importance to the future of Québec’s agrifood industry. We are also exploring a better way of living together. By experimenting with collective management, we are creating a community, a synergy, social ties between the actors of the territory, and greater mutual understanding. These are all necessary elements for the socio-ecological transition and the resilience of our territories.”

Caroline Bérubé, Research and Documentation Officer in the Innovation Process, Maison de l’innovation sociale

Photo credit: Youssef Shoufan

Questions about the "Terres noires" project? Consult the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).

1- What challenges does the project address?

The project focuses on the experiences and challenges of agricultural producers who have decided collectively to focus on three important issues: water management, pests, and agro-environmental practices.

By definition, these issues invite us to consider the challenges of climate change, loss of biodiversity, soil regeneration, food autonomy, territorial resilience, regulation, and finance.

2- How are agricultural producers involved in the project?

Farmers take part in individual interviews intended to help them better understand the problems facing them and participate in group workshops intended to assist them in developing design prototypes as part of a collective-management model. The farmers approach each prototype through an experimentation protocol that includes various evaluation tools, among them focus groups, interviews, and questionnaires. A second and final workshop phase seeks to integrate findings and to outline a new and improved collective-management model.

3- Who is participating in the project?

The project centers on black-soil farmers. As a group, they define its objectives and orientations and develop their collective-management experiments.

Actors from the community also contribute to the project. These include the Association des producteurs maraîchers du Québec (APMQ) and the Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA) as well as local organizations active in the agricultural community of the Jardins-de-Napierville RCM, including watershed organizations such as COVABAR and SCABRIC. The participation of these community actors facilitates a better understanding of interactions between different local stakeholders and helps to identify specific expertise or reveal issues that might otherwise go unnoticed.

The steering committee of the “Terres noires” project is composed of the Jardins-de-Napierville RCM, the Centre local de développement (CLD), the Pôle d’excellence en lutte intégrée (PELI), the Groupe PleineTerre and PRISME / Phytodata consulting clubs, and the Maison de l’innovation sociale (MIS). This committee is responsible for planning and organizing workshops with the various stakeholders; ensuring the mobilization of agricultural producers; and acting to serve the project’s objectives and orientations.

4- Why are we interested in the “Terres noires” project?

Food autonomy is of paramount concern today, and Quebec is fortunate to have an exceptional commercial-gardening territory: the black-soil basin of the Jardins-de-Napierville RCM. While this region currently accounts for more than 40% of the province’s vegetable production, vegetable farming as we know it could die out in the region within just 50 years if technical and social innovations are not quickly adopted.

The “Terres noires” project represents an important avenue for approaching the future of Québec’s agrifood industry. By experimenting with a collective-management approach, the project seeks to reinforce the resilience of the territory and its communities by improving mutual understanding, social ties, and sense of shared purpose.

For the participating agricultural producers who are the focus of the project, this is an opportunity to better understand the systems in which their activities take place—as well as the interrelationships between water cycles, wetlands, land loss, and agronomic practices, among others. It is also an opportunity to be trained to predict the consequences of their actions in this sphere, and to make the most optimal decisions with respect to their practices.

For the stakeholders whose support complements the work of agricultural producers, it is an opportunity to innovate according to the reality on the ground—and the people devoted to it—by focusing on the potential adoption of a specific model.

5- Who is funding this project?

The “Terres noires” project is being carried out with the financial support of the Government of Québec under the Climat municipalités – Phase 2 program and is in line with the objectives of the Plan pour une économie verte 2030.

6- How can I get involved in the project?

If you are interested in the “Terres noires” project, register here to authorize us to contact you as well as to invite you, as appropriate, to take part in activities, including some in person in the municipality of Napierville.

Partners of the 'Terres noires' project

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