Food, agriculture and the battle over Edmonton’s future growth

The City of Edmonton is currently developing a comprehensive City-Wide Food & Agriculture Strategy. On the surface this sounds like a great initiative. Many other cities have recognized the vital importance of food and have developed strategies and policies, and it’s about time that Edmonton follows suit. The project introduction makes a strong case for this work:

We live in a dynamic and rapidly growing metropolitan centre with a geographic location that demands a thorough consideration of what it means to be part of the food and agriculture system. We know that a resilient local food and agriculture system can contribute significantly to the local economy and to the overall cultural, financial, social and environmental sustainability of Edmonton and the Capital Region.

Developing the Food & Agriculture Strategy is an important endeavor for our city, and it deserves the time, care, and attention that any other serious policy might receive. So why are we rushing it?

Food in the City
Councillor Loken speaks at the Food in the City kickoff event in McIntyre Park in May 2011

The timeline is aggressive: the project officially started on May 28th, 2011 and is scheduled to go to public hearing in the fall of this year. Considering that public involvement activities did not get underway until this spring (and are already largely over), the reality is that the City is trying to develop this strategy in just a few short months with very limited input.

Other cities have certainly taken their time with similar projects. In Toronto, the Food Policy Council was created in 1991 but the Toronto Food Charter was not accepted until ten years later. The City is now in the process of developing the Toronto Food Strategy. In Vancouver, City Council got the ball rolling in 2003 by calling for the development of a “just and sustainable food system” for their city. Four years later the Vancouver Food Charter was adopted and in 2009, Council adopted urban agriculture design guidelines.

I know that whatever goes to Council in the fall isn’t the end of the road – the strategy will be further developed over time. But I don’t think that’s a reason to rush things now, especially given the apparent reason for the rush: this strategy is one of the final pieces standing in the way of land development on the edges of our city.

The Food & Agriculture Strategy is an opportunity for us to consider the importance of food in Edmonton. It’s an opportunity to increase access to local food, to reduce our ecological footprint, and to contribute significantly to the local economy. But it’s also an opportunity to consider what happens to the agricultural land surrounding Edmonton, and that is ultimately a question about the kind of city we want Edmonton to be.

The Way We Eat

During the development of our latest Municipal Development Plan (MDP), known as The Way We Grow, an organization called the Greater Edmonton Alliance caused quite a stir. On more than one occasion from 2008 to 2010, they filled City Hall with Edmontonians demanding a “vibrant and sustainable food economy.” They staged The Great Potato Giveaway, an impressive publicity stunt that brought food to the forefront of the discussion in Edmonton.

MDP Second Reading
Edmontonians filled City Hall for the Second Reading of the MDP

Their efforts resulted in a key victory: the inclusion of polices related to food and agricultural land in the MDP (3.2.1.6 through 3.2.1.11). In particular, policy 3.2.1.7 which states:

Preparation of Area Structure Plans is authorized for the Northeast, Southeast and Southwest Urban Growth Areas, and shall only be approved following Council acceptance of, and adherence with the:

  • Growth Coordination Strategy;
  • Integrated Infrastructure Management Plan; and
  • City-Wide Food and Agriculture Strategy.

In other words, they convinced Council that a food and agriculture strategy had to be in place before any further development on the edges of the city could proceed. They convinced Council that high soil quality, particularly in Northeast Edmonton, is valuable and should be considered as part of any planning and development in the area.

For a document that many critics, myself included, said lacked any sort of bite with respect to curbing sprawl, this was a remarkable achievement.

The Future Growth of Edmonton

An Area Structure Plan (ASP) is at the core of creating and developing new communities. You can think of an ASP as the link between the Municipal Development Plan, which directs and shapes Edmonton’s urban form at a high level, and Neighbourhood Structure Plans (NSPs), which get into the details about what new neighbourhoods in the area might look like (then there’s NASPs which are ASPs for a single neighbourhood). Residential ASPs generally cover an area of between 200 hectares and 2000 hectares, and provide general guidelines as to how MDP policies are to be realized within that area.

There are currently 18 ASPs/NASPs approved in the City of Edmonton, and they contain a total of 86 NSPs (as of December 2011). Of these, 29 are considered completed in terms of land supply as at least 95% of planned low density lots have been registered. Of the 57 remaining, 13 are not yet approved and are at the planned stage, while 44 are under development. This data comes from the Developing and Planned Neighbourhoods Report for 2011, which states:

As of December 2011, the potential low density residential lot supply that is available in approved ASPs is slightly more than 65,000. Based on current absorption rates, Edmonton has an average of 18 years of remaining land supply.

Land supply remaining in the approved Area Structure Plans ranges from a high of 19 years in the Southwest sector to a low of 9 years in the Northeast sector.

The Capital Region Board estimates that by 2040, the population of Edmonton will grow from the current 812,000 to approximately 1.2 million. They project demand for 146,000 new dwelling units by 2039. To put that into perspective, Edmonton currently has a little over 338,000 dwelling units. It’s worth noting that these estimates are based on past trends of larger suburban rather than urban growth. Councillor Iveson wrote at length about this issue during the development of the MDP, which he flippantly called ‘The Way We Sprawl’:

In other words, for fiscal, social and environmental reasons, there is a strong case against conceding to so much peripheral development. Again, I’m not calling for a halt to it, since I don’t see how we could accomplish that under current legislation. I’m calling for greater urbanization within today’s footprint. We’re told that market demand’s not there, that demand is for the suburbs, and that we can’t fight that. But I think we have to work to make urban living more family-friendly – which we’re beginning to do – and we need to make it competitive in terms of affordability. This is work worth doing, even if it’s hard.

So, you can look at those numbers for remaining lot supply and determine than we’d have a shortfall of around 81,000 units but you have to keep in mind that the 65,000 refers only to low density units on the periphery. We also need to consider the medium to high density residential capacity in approved ASPs, which totals 65,100 units, as well as redevelopment projects in the mature and established suburban areas which total an estimated 44,600 units.

MDP Land Use

The alternative is to look at the three “Urban Growth Areas” defined in the MDP (the brown areas on the map above). Rural Southeast, Rural West, and Rural Northeast would together provide an additional 15 years of low density capacity (55,000) units plus additional medium to high density capacity of 24,500 units.

So let’s do the math:

Existing low density capacity in approved growth areas 65,000
Existing medium/high density capacity in approved growth areas 65,100
Mature & established suburban redevelopment capacity 44,600
TOTAL (excluding Urban Growth Areas) 174,700
New low density capacity in Urban Growth Areas 55,000
New medium/high density capacity in Urban Growth Areas 24,500
TOTAL 254,200

As you can see our total capacity is significantly more than anticipated demand of 146,000 units. Even excluding the Urban Growth Areas, we’d have a surplus of 28,700 units. Why would we bother developing the three Urban Growth Areas when we have more than enough capacity in existing, approved areas?

Northeast Edmonton

Of the three Urban Growth Areas, changes for the Northeast seem most imminent. As mentioned above, the Northeast sector of the city has the lowest amount of land supply at an estimated 9 years. It also has the highest forecasted job growth through 2024, with an estimated 12,000 jobs being created over that time. But even with that growth, the area will only represent 2-3% of the city’s total workforce. Wouldn’t extending the LRT further into that area to serve the economic need be a better investment than building new neighbourhoods?

The ASP that is being proposed for the eastern part of the Northeast sector is known as Horse Hill. The name was recently approved by the City’s Naming Committee.

The name Horse Hill comes from the area’s historical association with Fort Edmonton. It was previously used as the home of Fort Edmonton’s horse guard (Blue 1924). During this time, as many as 800 horses were kept here , playing an important role in the maintenance and protection of Fort Edmonton.

The area is approximately 3700 hectares and is bounded by Manning Drive on the west, the North Saskatchewan River on the east, and Anthony Henday Drive on the south (some of the neighbourhoods nearby include McConachie, Gorman, Brintnell, and Kirkness). Development of the ASP is being led by Stantec Consulting and the Stakeholder Advisory Group is made up of landowners, community leagues, residents, and the City. They have already circulated a draft to dozens of departments at the City, even though they know the Food & Agriculture Strategy needs to be in place first. The audacity to move ahead with a draft ASP underscores just how pervasive the business-as-usual mentality really is.

The most unique feature of the Northeast is of course the agricultural land. You’ve probably heard of some of the farms located there: Kuhlmann’s, Norbest Farms, Visser Farms, Horse Hill Berry Farm, and Riverbend Gardens to name just a few. I had the opportunity to tour Riverbend Gardens back in 2010 and found it breathtaking. Their 120 acres of land is pretty much as far as you can go northeast and still be within the boundaries of Edmonton.

Riverbend Gardens
Riverbend Gardens

Roughly 17% of land in Alberta is good for farming, and the majority of that is situated along the Edmonton-to-Calgary corridor. Edmonton is lucky to have Class 1, 2, and 3 agricultural soils within the city limits, but so far we have not done a very good job of preserving it. Since 1982, Edmonton has lost 74% of its Class 1 soils. Still, in 2009 the average net profit per acre in Edmonton was $79.68, more than double any other location in the Capital Region. And in the Northeast? The average net profit per acre was $270.72. The value of the land in the Northeast needs to be recognized.

Directly to the west of this area, across Manning Drive, is the Edmonton Energy and Technology Park. That ASP was approved by Council on June 9, 2010. The intent is to capitalize on the byproducts left over from oil sands production (the area is about 15 kilometers from existing and proposed upgrader sites).

The Edmonton Energy and technology Park provides a vision for a new eco-industrial area for the city of Edmonton. The opportunity for value-added industries and significant economic spin-off activity based on the development of Alberta’s oil sands was the catalyst for the development of this industrial plan. EETP is designed to take advantage of the primary petrochemicals and products from upgrading and refining in the region.

The 4857 hectare-sized area will be developed over the next 40 years with four primary land use precincts: petrochemical, manufacturing, logistics, and research & development. This is where a lot of that job growth is expected to come from.

crb transportation plan

Partially as a result of the expected increase in industrial activity on the west side of Manning Drive, plans currently exist to connect Highway 28A with Highway 21 via an expressway that would cut right through existing farmland and cross the North Saskatchewan River. The Capital Region Board (CRB) scored a victory in December 2011 when the Province agreed to shelve plans for the Regional Ring Road, but it seems that has done little to protect agricultural land in the Northeast. The CRB’s Integrated Regional Transportation Master Plan includes the expressway as a potential high load corridor (subject to further engineering and technical review). Who knows if the road will actually be built, but the draft Horse Hill ASP includes it.

horse hill asp

In anticipation of this development, an awful lot of land has changed hands. Some estimates suggest that just 15% of land in the area is still owned by original owners. Walton International, a land developer (some would say speculator) that has been active in the Edmonton region for many years, is now the largest landowner in the area. They purchase land at a small premium with the expectation that its value will be significantly increased as the opportunity to develop it draws near. There are a number of holdouts however, including Riverbend Gardens. Recently they and others formed the Northeast Edmonton Agricultural Producers association and launched Friends of Farmers to draw attention to the potential loss of agricultural land.

Business-as-Usual Growth

We cannot afford to grow in the future the way we have in the past. Councillor Iveson highlighted this section of the Growth Coordination Strategy after an initial read:

Although not included in the analysis at this time, operating and maintenance costs in suburban areas represents a significant operational expenditure to the City. Also a large component of capital spending, rehabilitation and replacement of infrastructure is not included in the analysis presented either. Administration is working towards the inclusion of these expenses into future versions of the Growth Coordination Strategy, but at this time the methodology for the gathering and synthesis of the data required for this is not developed sufficiently.

He then stated, “I’m concerned we may not have this full picture before the next Area Structure Plans (for the North East and South West green patches) come up for debate this fall.”

Some land developers will tell you that the City has an obligation to move forward on the three Urban Growth Area ASPs. To them, the City made a promise to develop the land when it annexed the three regions back in 1981. But can we really afford to hold the City of today to decisions that were made over thirty years ago?

I don’t know why the City pursued that annexation in 1981 – I wasn’t yet born – but the answer might be found in Doug Kelly’s book $100,000 An Acre. In Chapter 12 he writes about the development of Campbelltown (now known as Sherwood Park) in the 1950s and in Chapter 14 he elaborates on the City of Edmonton’s opposition to the development. “The city, even then, was concerned about fringe developments and its inability to tax or control development without annexation.” The McNally Report in 1956 and the Hanson Report in 1968 both recommended that Edmonton be allowed to annex St. Albert, Sherwood Park, and the industrial area of Strathcona County. “In all cases, the provincial government knuckled under to the small rural population and disallowed the annexation. It was an injustice to the citizens of Edmonton from which they have never fully recovered.”

SHERWOOD PARK, ALBERTA MAY 8th 1962 PIC 2
Sherwood Park in May of 1962

I wonder if that experience caused the City to become more aggressive about acquiring the surrounding land decades later. Perhaps they realized the situation for cities was not going to improve. When the province eliminated the Planning Act in 1995 and placed all legislation concerning land development into the Municipal Government Act (MGA), it didn’t come without a cost. “Now the rural municipalities can develop to the fringes of urban municipalities, greatly restricting the latter’s ability to expand for future growth,” Kelly wrote.

The relationship between urban municipalities and the province today seems poised for renewal. With the announcement last month that Calgary, Edmonton, and the province have committed to developing a big city charter, there’s hope that positive changes are on the way for Alberta’s big cities and the options they have for dealing with the unique challenges of growth.

Land developers have sunk money into the Urban Growth Areas and the only way they can get it back and make a profit is for the City to continue growing the way it has been. For sprawl to continue unabated. As a result, the City and Council are almost certainly feeling pressured to get these ASPs approved, but there is absolutely no requirement that they do so. All they must do is follow the process established under the MGA and its ASP Terms of Reference.

We must be willing to stand up and declare that the Edmonton of 2012 and beyond will be a more compact, sustainable city than the Edmonton of 1981. Change is hard, but if the will is there it can be done. We need to be willing to say that if you’ve based your business on decisions that were made over three decades ago, too bad; Edmontonians are no longer picking up the tab.

Food & Agriculture

In our haste to continue unnecessarily growing outward, I’m concerned that we’re going to end up with a Food & Agriculture Strategy that reflects the limited time and attention devoted to it. Determining the true value of the land in the Northeast is just one piece of the puzzle, there are so many other aspects to food and agriculture in the Edmonton region that should be considered.

The discussion primer for the project hits all the right notes, of course.

As part of the strategy, a comprehensive inventory of agricultural assets is being undertaken, as well as an assessment of local food business opportunities. The strategy will include a summary of this background information in order to provide a sense of the current state of food and agriculture in the city and what potential exists. Example practices from across North America are also being examined, as mentioned earlier, in order to gather ideas for what might work in Edmonton.

Assessing local food business opportunities, compiling a comprehensive inventory of agricultural assets – these are excellent ideas, but they are not things that can be completed overnight.

Consulting the right people takes time too. I had the opportunity to attend two consultation events, neither of which was very well attended. At the second such event, there was a lot of great discussion about farmers markets, food hubs, educating people about basic food skills, and much more. And yet, we barely scratched the surface.

Let’s use farmers markets as an example. Yes, everyone seems to agree that farmers markets are a great thing, but what good is a strategy if that’s all it says? Do we have the right number of farmers markets in the Edmonton region? What challenges do they face? What could the City do to help address those and other challenges? Do we have enough producers to support all the markets? These questions deserve to be explored in depth.

Highlands Market
Shoppers at one of Edmonton’s newest markets in Highlands

Given the limited time, I’m not confident that the final strategy will be anything more than a collection of high level goals. I’m sure it’ll be a great read, but I doubt it will be so bold as to make any strong recommendations to Council on how to actually achieve the vision of having a resilient food and agriculture system in Edmonton.

I hope I’m wrong, but I fear the Food & Agriculture Strategy will be viewed as nothing more than another box checked on the road to additional sprawl.

Closing Thoughts

Both the Growth Coordination Strategy and the Food & Agriculture Strategy are slated to go to Council sometime this fall. The Horse Hill ASP is also slated to be reviewed toward the end of October. City Council will soon be on summer break until the end of August, and I’d love for them to return to a flood of messages from Edmontonians expressing their thoughts on this issue. They need to know that a significant number of people support their efforts to curb urban sprawl.

The bottom line is that the agricultural land on the edge of Edmonton is some of the best land in the province. With more than enough capacity to support anticipated population growth within existing areas, there’s no good reason to relinquish such a valuable asset, especially before a proper analysis of the land and how it fits into Edmonton’s future is completed and a strategy is approved.

This is not just a battle between land developers and farmers in the city’s Northeast. This is a battle over the kind of City we want Edmonton to be. I want Edmonton to be a economically and environmentally sustainable city that recognizes the importance of food security and the value of a more compact region. How about you?

  • Janelle

    Thank you, these are all my thoughts exactly. I hope and pray the right decitions are made. The thought of that highway right over my farm makes me shed tears. Thank you so much for this post, I have to believe we have the power to make change happen.
    Janelle Herbert
    Riverbend Gardens

    • Thanks for the comment Janelle and for everything you do. We just got back from the market where we bought some of your beautiful carrots. Keep it up!

  • A Canadian Foodie

    OMG. Brilliant. Vanja is still in Europe (home Tuesday) and I have read every word and examined every link and chart with my morning coffee and STOOD on several occasions, home alone, and gave you a standing ovation. Please send a link of this to every alderman. I will send one to everyone I can. Economics-Economics-Economics should NOT be the mantra of this city… I prefer Sustainability-Sustainabilty-Sustainability. I love this city, too… and am SO so so proud of the incredible fine art culture this city has maintained… and want to be just as proud of the food policy. The time line is ridiculous – it is so fast. I like efficiency, but not in the face of a smoke screen to what is happening in North East Edmonton land wise. “The audacity to move ahead with a draft ASP underscores just how pervasive the business-as-usual mentality really is.” sums up my fears here.
    Your closing thoughts echoes mine, though I could not have “thunk” ’em so well… to me, sustainability includes a strong economic base.
    Thank you for caring. Thank you for the research which I am confident few of our councillors have undertaken.
    BIG HUG
    Valerie

    • Thank you for reading and for the comment Valerie! We definitely need to ensure more people are aware of what is happening and are educated about the choices we as a city are faced with.

  • Will Munsey

    What a thorough analysis.  One thing you didn’t mention was the development of Leduc and the International Airport.  Leduc is developing to the west, over some of the most amazing farmland around (5′ of topsoil).  Over here in East Leduc County, where much of our land is marginal, we’ve done nothing.  It’s terrible planning in terms of land use.  I can’t figure it out.

    • Yeah I wanted to focus on the Northeast in this post, but I have done some preliminary research on other areas. For a future post! 🙂

    • Amanda-Lynn

      He is not mentioning any other area because of whom he has gathered information through. Look at the Farmers and the “Groups”. They are all NE area farmers who sit on all same boards (NEAP, Friends of Farmers, GEA… etc- Same people different alias’) . This blog  has nothing to do with Edmonton an a whole, it is strickly the NE farmland  and how we as Edmontonians can sustain thier buisnesses.
      There is so much more to this story, and I am hoping that Mr. Male will do a service to all Edmontontians and gather all the information to all the holes in his blog. Like why the farmers puhased thier land or more  land in 1982 after the annexation in 1981?! And why these farmers listed in the article are in fact the same farmers who sold to the Walton International and continue to sell?  I am hoping that the follow up to this blog will have the information brought forth here and touch a bit on the carbon foot print that the “Great Potato Give Away” contributed to our environment in one 10 hour day!
      The list can go on and will go on. I look forward to reading the follow up to this…

      • Amanda-Lynn

        please excuse the typo’s, iphone illiterate today!

      • I focused on the Northeast because it is the furthest along and because it seems like changes would happen there before anyone else. As a result yes, the farmers and organizations I focused on are in the Northeast.

        But do not confuse the focus on the Northeast with the impact. This really does have an impact on Edmonton as a whole, because what happens here will influence what happens with the other areas.

        Some farmers have sold to Walton, that’s true, including Visser Farms. That’s their prerogative, it’s their land. But just because a few farmers are willing to sell doesn’t mean the others who wish to remain should be forced out.

        If you feel there are holes in what I have written, I would encourage you to do the research and write your own piece pointing them out.

        Thanks for reading!

        • Gwaselenchuk

          Hello Mack

          I’m one of the people that owns land and lives in the Horse Hills Community. I have tried to listen to both sides of this story and understand why people are concerned.  For the record I’m happy to continue to live there the way it is but I have a problem with those that have made the choice to sell thier lands to developers pocketing the money and then through thier own greed are trying to stop the development of the lands they have sold. Some people have been hanging on to thier family lands to sell them so they can retire.  I have less then 3 acres so I’m a very small piece of the puzzle.  Instead of trying lock up the land this way why doesn’t Mr Visser buy some of the parcels of land around him. Look at it from this point of view 15 mins down the road at the new shopping complex a half acre to build a shop on will cost you 1.2 million how do you tell people that thier is only worth $60, 000 ( that is only a guess at what farmland is worth) but I do know the $1.2 is a real number.  I don’t know what the best answer is for our area but the area structure plan does allow for the graden markets just not large scale farming.

        • Amanda-Lynn

          Mack, 
          There is no research that needs to be done here on my end, as a resident and someone who has resided here as a small child the proof is everywhere- even in pictures. I have witnessed it on multiple occasions, I think that the research on your end needs to be collected with facts. 
          Sure Visser Farms sold land to developers but out of the 5 you listed, they are not the only ones. In fact- there has been land sold by one or more of the 5 in this present year- 2012. I am sure that this would have been brought to light in your “research”- but on the other hand the public hearing about this would shed a dark light on the matter at hand, wouldn’t it?? If they want to lock it up question is why do they continue to “optimal soil” land? 
          If their prerogative is to sell their land then- sell it , but don’t speak on behalf of myself or others who OWN the land. Not ONCE have I seen any of these people on GEA, NEAP, Friends of Farmers VOLUNTEER in the community that they are so passionate about.  
          I too, along side Todd, Roy and the others of NEEA would also like to invite you to become part of the resolution, join NEEA and Friends for an information session. Hear what our concerns are be one of the few who are willing to see both sides-We too have a vision of what we want for the NE and it may just be something that Edmonton will fall in love with… 

          • I would love to come out to an information session, please let me know when and where!

  • Exceptional writing, Mack!  Thank you for showing the complexity and importance of this seemingly small topic

  • Christel

    Thanks for writing this Mack!

  • Fabian Jennings

    Mack, you mention that Stantec is leading the development of the Horse Hill ASP. Who is paying Stantec for the work it’s doing?

    • Walton International. From exactly 1 year ago today:

      “Despite lobbying efforts, the developer – not the city – is leading the planning process. Walton Development, an international company that bought up most of the land in the area, hired Stantec Consulting to start developing an area structure plan this spring.”

      http://www2.canada.com/story.html?id=5111249

  • Jackie Clark

     Great summary of the issue to date. We continue to organize for keeping NE Edmonton for growing food for our city.  thanks for your support and interest!
    Jackie,
    Horse Hill Berry farm
    co-chair Northeast Edmonton Agriculture Producers (NEAP)

  • Paul Hughes

    Overlooked is the issue of Food Justice. Food Elitism is not Food Justice.

    More Farmer’s Markets does not necessarily mean more local food. Production, capacity, training, recruiting and access are critical to building local capacity and a just food system.

    Market forces will address food elitism. Food policy will, and should, address food justice.

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  • Dave Siever

    An informed article and very well written! I hope the council adopts your article as the fundamental basis upon which to build its mandates for agricultire in Edmonton.

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  • Glad to see an effort to push this issue publicly. Both City staff and Council were aware of all of these shortcomings at the time the MDP & TMP were being developed and approved, but the political reality favoured the status quo. The only thing that’s likely to cause a change is a major and vocal public shift in opinion. Keep up the good work!

  • Mack. You are the man.

  • Pat Wishart

    Well researched with logical conclusions. We must try and keep this prime agricultural land zoned agricultural. As you say the soil is #1 or #2 and isn’t some of the farmland in a protected micro climate which means seeds can be planted as early as March?

    We all appreciate fresh produce and obviously food grown locally is fresher. As our city increases in size we will need more food to supply our market gardens and grocery stores. We must treasure our farmers and farmland in a sustainable way. Growing food should have the highest priority. Plans for development, infrastruture and roads must be changed to accommodate the growing of food.
    Pat Wishart

    • Neeaandfriends

      Fear not Pat! Alberta will continue to produce and ship more food than it can possibly consume on its own. As for the micro-climate in NE Edmonton I thought I could share a photo of how planting during the month of March looks in NE Edmonton. This is directly in front of my house. Show me the scientific facts it exists, or we can or will continue to show you the scientific facts it is a mere claim made by these same farmers (we call it a buzz word) who liquidated their properties. This photo too is on rented land. 

  • Blair

    Great way to put it. Other cities dream of having this fertile land, we just dream of keeping it. I’m confident your words will break through.

  • NEEAandfriends – Todd

     
     
     
    Mack,
     
    Well done on this article. You continue the one sided misinformation cycle.
    We, North East Edmonton Alliance (NEEA) are In the 15% of the original land owners you refer to. Of that 15% we consist of well over 200 owners that live in this particular NE area which you claim to have researched so well to write this article. Lets clear that up, we are the ones who took mortgages, pay the taxes and care for our properties just like you only on larger scales. Many of us have been here for generations, can you imagine even longer than the wise five you wrote about.
     
    We are the ones who attempt to attend meetings GEA and NEAP hold outside our neighborhood to garner support. We have never been invited or allowed in, fact is, we have video to prove it. You wrote about five area farmers that are concerned about their future? Far cry from the amount of people who actually own their land. Apparently you like numbers? Of that 15% not one person other than the people you wrote about support their agricultural vision. If 15% represents our 200 landowners, then the four farmers you wrote about represents 0.375% of the opinion? You can only imagine the percentage if we included the developer. The most interesting comment you resignate is calling  the developer “speculators,” I too was called that by one of GEA’s supporters on council! Since 1927 we have resided in Horse Hill and I am a “speculator?” Now remember I still own my land. These same people have sold instead to protect through ownership which you remark. 74% of this land has been sold, by who? I believe to be a speculator one must capitalize on selling before they are real “speculators.” We still live here and we still own our lands. Are you sure you never heard about us?
     
    Your also correct there is no rush to accomplish this goal… It’s only been 31 years. How long have you been involved with this process? I was a teenager when this started and now I’m planning retirement. Oh you commented you weren’t born as of annexation and didn’t understand why it happened and that we as citizens don’t need to respect forgone councillors decisions on the future land use that was concluded. Well… this is the work my Grandfather did to protect our family after they lost becoming part of the city, and we as residents refuse to have peole who are ill informed on the issues decide our future.
    We’re amazed none of those people could give you the insight.
     
    I and another gentleman from our group represented on the ASP you referred to. GEA and NEAP represented with more than six members which you made no metion of. They too were a part of the final process. I take an exception to your comments we are forcing the farmers out. That is a complete misrepresentation as the green sections on the map represents the ONLY parcels they own and those who want to preserve the ag. We supported them! They want our lands locked up under our ownership. 
     
    Mack, I offered you to get together for a coffee in May, you replied you would like to and would contact me. I am still waiting. Our group lives this life which we represent also the other farmers you do not list. Amanda-Lynn commented earlier and you suggested her to do reasearch and write the holes in your blog. In reading your blog it is apparent you cut and paste most of GEA’s and NEAP’s work as the same old items you wrote about seem to be unknown or not sustatiated with facts. Nowhere are links to support the claim on the $/acre produced or the total of production crops farmed each year.
     
    In closing this is only some of the information we will share with your blog that is so tainted with GEA and NEAP’s propaganda. I have been asked to trade my land with city land elsewhere. How about those five farmers who own less than 700 acres between them all, relocate them as there are alot less of them.
     
    Check this out! It’s from the website of the fantastic five!
    Some real good soil all around Edmonton, or I mean Province. It’s their website not mine.
    Good researching Mack

     
     
     
    http://www.norbestfarms.com/northern_vigor.htm

     
    Todd
    NEEA and Friends
     
     

    • Hi Todd, thanks for the comment. Would still like to get together for coffee, but for what I wanted to write in this piece I had what I needed.

      I’m disappointed in your response. It’s the arrogance and entitlement that just because you have been involved for so much longer that turns others off. We should be celebrating the fact that people are engaging with this issue and discussing the kind of city we want Edmonton to be, but instead, all I am hearing is that because I wasn’t born in the area and haven’t owned land there all my life that I don’t get a say.

      This is my city too.

      • Neeaandfriends

        Mack,

        Thanks for the feedback. I want to apologize for you feeling that your age had something to do with this. You are correct, this is your city and you too should be damn proud our forefathers made it as such.

        As for your comments about the arrogance and entitlement, I take exception you feel that way! The passion and experience comes with time and had you been involved as long as many of us have, you just may have written this article with less devotion to GEA and NEAP. I was not going to respond publicly but your lack of experience and attacking opinons of those within our community is unacceptable.

        I too want to impress upon you we are not against local food and agriculture. There are many ways to accomplish that with the security of knowing what is put onto or into the produce. Most trust worthy is growing it yourself within your own back yard. Many of our members have been involved with helping create ideas for the city at large. If you have been following other outlets you will also find out the veggie world in NE Edmonton is beginning to be found out. Facts are beginning to emerge that  housing some of the most commercialized operations in Edmonton. We wish too the true facts of crop production would be claimed as today. I think you would be shocked how little is used for the production of Edmonton. Here is an article that was in the Edmonton Journal.
        http://www2.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/story.html?id=2e62e312-ea0a-48fd-bb4a-b242ebeebd56

        For your concerns on sprawl, maybe this will give you a different perspective.
        http://www.canada.com/business/Driving%20the%20wrong%20way%20on%20sprawl/6719546/story.html

        I look forward to your replies.

        Todd

        • Todd, I don’t think we’re going to agree on urban sprawl, which is really what this post is about. Agriculture in the Northeast is just the touch point right now.

  • Gsstepanick

    Mack,

    I am a farmer ,landowner, and have lived in the the NE area for all my life. My parents have owned land since1960 and my husband and I have bought and owned our farm for 21 years and we do not look at ourselves as  speculators .We are actually quite tired of people looking at us like all we care about is turning a profit off of our land.We purchased it to raise our family and to continue farming our family farm. We have farmed many different parcels from land owners and are well aware of the different types of soil that is in this area.There are many parcels that have had the topsoil stripped from it.What # does that make this soil definitely not #1 or #2 ? Then I have to question you on the amount of money made per acre. What are you basing this on grain farming or vegetable farming? I, as a vegetable farmer, am very well aware of what these farmers can net per acre and I am sorry to tell you but you are very wrong. I wonder how much of this fight is based on preserving the land verses their pocket books. It’s almost like double dipping, let’s sell our land make a huge profit and then let’s save the land so we can make a huge profit again by farming it.
      
    We have recently had to purchase 77 acres out by Namao and will continue to farm there. The reason for the move was we did not wish to live approximately 250 metres from the Anthony Henday and the massive power lines now under construction. Our home is no longer as we know it. It is funny that not once did I hear any sort of objection to the freeway taking up valuable farmland. 

     I thought we lived in a country where we had a right to make our own choices. Who would imagine a day when others would decide for you.  

    • Thanks for the comment. I feel your pain about not being able to make our own choices – I mean, do I have a choice about living in a continually sprawling city? It would seem not.

      • Gsstepanick

        Mack

        I am glad that you have felt my “pain” but what I really wanted from you as a response was to answer my questions on the land quality that you have researched and the amount per acre . Where did you get the information to base this on? Please send us all a link so we can see it for ourselves. I think alot of these comments are based on here say and not much is being backed up by facts. Please also list which government  agriculture study was done and the link to it about the micro climate in this area . I have never been able to find it and would love to share it with NEEA. I’m sure your readers would love to read it also. 

        The backlash that you are receiving from many of these land owners in this area is like Amanda said we are having our backs up against a wall and have never been included in the GEA and NEAP get togethers .Never have the citizens of Edmonton who attend these meetings heard both sides of the story.All they have heard is how the farmers are being pushed out [actually alot have sold out]. Any farmer can remain farming if they want. They do it in B.C. they have farmers and multi million dollar homes right beside each other. They seem to live in harmony why can’t these farmers do the same? If a shortage of land is the problem for these farmers  maybe they should have thought long term and not sold out. 

        Finally Mack your comment on living in a continually sprawling city. It seems funny that it’s ok for you to be here but a rise in population is not welcome after all is that not what causes a city to grow and sprawl?

        • The numbers for the land quality and the amount per acre come from the GEA’s report called The Way We Eat. They cite a City of Edmonton Planning Department Background Report from 2009, which is the original source. You can access the report here:

          http://mastermaq.s3.amazonaws.com/public/thewayweeat.pdf

          Thank you for the information about land owners feeling left out. That does not sound right to me, definitely citizens should be involved and have a say.

          With regards to the last comment – no, a rise in population DOES NOT mean the city has to sprawl. Read the section above on the future growth of Edmonton. The numbers clearly show that we could accommodate the expected increase in population WITHOUT spreading our city even further apart.

  • Land Owner Roy

    Mack, I hope that you continue your investigative reporting and have that coffee with Todd from NEEA and Friends. Perhaps then, you may be able to see the big, entire and real picture of what is happening in North East Edmonton. I don’t expect you to fully understand annexation plans that predate your time on this earth, but I would appreciate you trying to get all of the facts prior to reporting in a public forum. You said it was Visser Farms prerogative to sell their property. Is it no longer the prerogative of any of the remaining land owners in the area to do with their land as they choose? My family’s ownership of land in Horse Hill also predates your existence, so I do not appreciate you taking the stance of “self-proclaimed” expert/authority on the area that we have raised children and grandchildren on. Talk to the NEEA people and get your facts straight! Visit the area that you write so passionately about. Survey the lands to find what real percentage of #1 & #2 soil is actually found there. Do not refer to people who have kept their properties, (while your “Stewards of the community” have sold out long ago) as the speculators in this scenario. While you are doing this investigative reporting, find out how much land in the area is owned by the people that are fighting the new area structure plan put forward by Stantec and how much of the produce that they grow on the land that they rent from the Walton group is actually kept in the local food market, as opposed to being sold to the U.S. and other international markets. Look at the damage that has been done by these same “champions” to the lands that they are fighting to “preserve” , through their application of environmentally harmful herbicides, pesticides and nitrate fertilizers. Keep up the god work that you have begun, but pay attention to your “follow Through” if you ever want your swing to improve.  

    • Land Owner Roy

       Sorry Mack, the last sentence of my reply was supposed to say “keep up the good work”, (not the god work). this was a typo and not a Freudian slip.

    • Always eager to learn more, thanks!

  • Bob Hood

    Looks like you have done a good job of collecting information from Khulmans, Vissers, etc and have not bothered to get any information from the many many long term residents in the area who actually own land in the area.  There are well over 400 land owners in the area and all of the press and publicity is being directed by 3 farmers in the area, namely Khulman, Visser and the Horse Hill Farm.

    It should be noted that all of these owners have sold large portions of their valuable farmland for huge amounts of money and continue to run their operations on the same land by renting it back for mere pennies.

    The Visser land was sold to a family member who immediately turned around and sold it to developers for millions, Dieter Khulman rents most of the land he farms, and just months ago sold a piece of this invaluable farmland for several million dollars.  It seems that these area farmers are intent on having their cake and eating it too.

    The land owners in the area are being painted with a single brush that says DEVELOPER, but people fail to realize that there are a few developers, a few farmers, and a large number of long term residents who have lived on their property for 40 or 50 years such as myself.

    Much of the land in the area never has and never will be used for farming, yet these few farmers who have already pocketed millions from land sales are intent on freezing the area to make it impossible for long term residents such as myself, many who are now in their 60s or 70s, to sell their land and have a comfortable retirement.

    Its fine to write an article like this and express your views, but I think it would show a great deal more intelligence if you were to gather all the facts and background before using your poition in the media to express only half the facts.

    Bob Hood

    • I think it’s hilarious that you and others who have left comments recently condemn my post for only talking about a few farmers, and then you spend the rest of your comment talking about those very farmers yourself! 

      I think it would show a great deal more intelligence if you were to actually put forward some facts in your critical comment, instead of just lamenting the fact that you can’t get rich off selling your land if this doesn’t move forward.

      • Amanda-Lynn

        You know as someone who shares in the same generation as you, Mack, I am very appauled in the disrespect that is shown towards the residents who are voicing an opinion and most of all to  Our Elders. The blog that you have shared is a great article (one sided, but all in all informitive), you have to understand that these residents have thier backs against walls because of the disrespect and lack of honesty that the farmers out here have for thier neighbors.
          It upsetting that you allow for people to share comments to your blog and you are attacking thier opinions and characters- attacking intelligence, calling people arrogant… I am ashamed with your comments, and your lack of respect to the audience that you have captivated. These people have moulded the life we live now-  they paved the road that we have followed until now. Sure you may have disagreements with some of the decisions that they made- welcome to the real world.
        “Be the change you wish to see in the world” and also having respect for peoples opinions will get you alot further…

        • And I am “appauled” at your spelling and grammar.

          Look if you’re going to dish it, you better be willing to take it. I can take it. But so far, none of you have shared any facts in opposition to anything I wrote. Just opinions, which you’re entitled to, but which don’t automatically make you correct. Give me something concrete!

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  • O. R.

    Who can see a future, but group in this planet grown all the time…
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  • Not with my tax dollar

    It seems to me that there is a simple way to resolve the dispute. Large amounts of land in rural northeast are owned by a land banking company. Although they specialize in preparing the way for development, their primary goal must be to make money for the investors. So, if you really care about preserving agriculture, make a reasonable offer on the land. The investors will have a choice between taking a guaranteed profit now, or gambling on maybe making more money (who knows how many) years later. Most wise investors will take the sure thing.

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  • James Karanja

    Agriculture is a source of food and income to many citizens. As the population growth increases,the food supply should also increase thus new mode of farming should be adopted so as to increase food productivity. see: http://ku.ac.ke