If you care about local food & urban agriculture, tell your Councillor

In an effort to connect City Council with constituents to discuss the Food & Agriculture Strategy, the Greater Edmonton Alliance (GEA) organized two ward meetings in advance of the public hearing on October 26. The first took place on Tuesday at the Robertson Wesley United Church, and while the councillors for wards 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8 were invited, only Councillor Henderson attended. GEA officials told us that Councillor Krushell had responded and that she was unable to attend, and that Councillor Loken had responded and wanted to meet privately with GEA (he confirmed to me he is waiting for GEA to confirm a meeting, GEA has told me they want a public meeting, not a private one).

GEA Local Food Ward Meeting

The meeting was scheduled to last one hour, and GEA officials did a good job of sticking to that schedule. Unfortunately most of the hour was spent bringing everyone up-to-speed on the issue, and on GEA’s efforts thus far. We heard from Elizabeth Smythe from GEA’s Local Food Team, Debbie Hubbard, who served as GEA’s representative on the Food & Ag Strategy Advisory Committee, and Monique Nutter, Co-Chair of GEA’s Local Food Team. Monique concluded her remarks with a call-to-action for citizens and a request that Councillor Henderson respond by October 22:

Unfortunately, pressures are mounting to push decisions on this land forward quickly in a way that denies the time to explore options and, more concerning, marginalizes the voices of citizens.

We are here tonight to ask our City Councillors to work with us to ensure the Citywide Food and Agriculture Strategy provides the necessary information to enable good decisions.

Finally, we got to hear from Councillor Henderson. “I’m not the one that needs to be convinced,” he started, gesturing to the empty chairs that had been set aside for his colleagues on Council. He received a loud ovation for his attendance from the crowd.

Asked whether he felt the strategy sufficiently answered questions about what to do with the land in the northeast, Councillor Henderson responded: “I absolutely do not have enough information yet.”

In his remarks, Councillor Henderson noted that whatever support might have existed for preserving the land in the northeast back when the MDP was passed now appears to be gone. What happened? The answer might be found in a blog post by former GEA organizer Michael Walters:

The campaign to “preserve farmland” in northeast Edmonton was never an either-or endeavor. It was never about opposing development. It was about making something amazing in Northeast Edmonton.

In short, he feels the conversation has shifted from wondering where our food will come from in the future to a debate over sprawl and farmland. A debate he feels is unwinnable.

It was a strategic decision to tie the creation of the Food & Agriculture Strategy to the development of the three Urban Growth Areas. Whether that was the right strategy or not remains to be seen, but at the moment things feel far more uncertain than they did three years ago. There are some good things in the strategy and it would be a shame to see them held up or abandoned because of the land use issue in the northeast. At the same time, what other leverage do proponents of preserving the land have? The Growth Coordination Strategy has already been made much less comprehensive, and the Integrated Infrastructure Management Plan has already been approved as a “framework”, rather than as a plan of Council as originally identified.

“What happens if we delay the entire strategy?” Councillor Henderson wondered aloud at the meeting. “I’m uncertain about what happens next.”

GEA Local Food Ward Meeting

Councillor Henderson also reminded everyone in attendance that this is a regional land issue. “The essence of this is the fixation in this province with the primacy of property rights,” he said. Michael Walters notes the responsibility to deal with the issue has been floating back and forth for years:

The Capital Region Board has shown little courage in facing this question and in fact handed back the responsibility for addressing protection of farmland to the province in 2010. So for the City of Edmonton to pass this decision to the regional board cements an existing culture of timidity in dealing with this issue.

This is despite clear input to the Capital Region Board on the issue of preserving agricultural land:

In the quantitative survey, a significant majority (60 percent) of residents said agricultural lands should be preserved and protected. This support was consistent across the region.

How can we address the ongoing lack of action? How can we get City Council to pay attention? Liane Faulder says a “noisy, loud, foot-stomping and engaged” food movement is needed:

City council may well get away with doing precisely nothing of any substance to deal with the issue of urban agriculture because nobody is going to make them. There’s not a single council member who has shown any real interest in the urban food debate.

In other words, if you care about this issue, you need to get involved now!

GEA Local Food Ward Meeting

The next meeting takes place on Thursday evening at 7pm at St. Theresa’s Parish (7508 29 Avenue). Councillors Sloan and Diotte have apparently confirmed their attendance, and the councillors for wards 5, 9, 10, and 12 have been invited.

Don’t forget the non-statutory public hearing on the Food & Agriculture Strategy takes place on Friday, October 26. If you want to speak at the hearing, fill out this form.

9 thoughts on “If you care about local food & urban agriculture, tell your Councillor

  1. Mac

    You say, assessing a Michael Walters’ comment, “In short he feels the conversation has shifted from wondering where our food will come from in the future to a debate over sprawl and farmland. A debate he feels is unwinnable.”

    Then you add your own opinion running in the same direction, “There are some good things in the strategy and it would be a shame to see them held up or abandoned because of the land use issue in the northeast.”

    Given that you have an appreciation for the GEA-LFT/NEAP cause of preserving farmland, I find the above inconsistent with that appreciation and unfortunate.

    The first quote is illogical. How can anyone separate long-term food security from stopping sprawl and preserving farmland, and then say the latter struggle is unwinnable?! They are the same struggle. If you can’t stop sprawl and farmland destruction, you can’t have long-term food security. If you understood Michael correctly regarding the unwinnable comment, where does Michael think the food is going to come from – a replicator aboard the starship Enterprise? Saving northeast farmland is obviously only a small part of the solution to long-term food security, but it’s a start, and you have to start somewhere.

    The second is equally dangerous or even more so. So, it’s bad, is it, if some good things in the CWFAS are held up or abandoned because of the land use issue? Well, what about the land use issue being held up or abandoned by the CWFAS in favour of some foodie/yuppie/elitist victories such as better support for farmer’s markets and more extensive local food menus in the upscale restaurants? That wouldn’t be “a shame to see”?

    To cut to the chase, no one should weaken NEAP or GEA resolve to save the farmland in the northeast (600 hectares min.) in favour of such things as increased farmer’s market support and more local carrots on the Culina menu.

    Moreover that resolve is one with the resolve not to let councillors use support for these other “good things in the strategy” as their own exit strategy as they rush to get uninvolved with saving urban farmland. I have already, I feel, witnessed this happening with a councillor, formerly (it was believed) okay with the 600 hectare “ask” who is now saying, “CWFAS has always been about much more than preserving farmland.” That’s similar to the second quote of yours I mentioned above in that both imply the CWFAS might be okay even without land preservation provisions.

    I guess I can only say I disagree.

    For me, the question is, “How can we strategize so as to block the exits that comments like those I’ve quoted above open up for a Council that has been backsliding ever since it put local food on the MDP menu?” Was it tricked into that or something, or did certain councillors just think it was a vote getter at the time?

    Fabian Jennings

    1. I gather you feel the CWFAS is solely about farmland. I disagree. The Food Policy Commission, Food Charter, and other recommendations could be implemented without taking any action on the land in the northeast.

      Obviously I support the preservation of agricultural land, and I would like to see Council make a strong statement to that effect, but It doesn’t appear to be very likely at the moment.

  2. Fabian if you recall there were two very interesting motions, among hundreds, debated and voted upon during the last MDP discussions. One was to have the City Wide Food and AG strategy, like the Integrated Infrastructure Management Strategy and the Growth Coordination Strategy, precede council receiving and debating any further Area Structure Plans for the NE, SW and SE. This motion after filling city hall THREE times with 500+ people based on the need to tie this strategy to future land use decisions, passed 7-6. Another motion put forward by Councilor Iveson, (don’t recall the exact wording) suggested the city strive for a 50-50 greenfield development- infill development ratio rather than the 75-25 ratio that is in the MDP. That motion was defeated 10-3 if memory serves. This current council has little appetite, as did the last one (mostly the same folks) for changing our growth patterns from outward to inward. Show me a campaign that could have moved that mountain and I’d be impressed. The issue for me was building a local food hub upon the great asset of NE Edmonton’s soils and remaining, passionate ag. producers like Janelle and Aaron Hebert w/ Riverbend Gardens. The value of the land in the NE was already too prohibitive to save en masse because of speculation. Building and enhancing our local food economy was the campaign, not fighting the suburbs. This current battle is in the city, the next one needs to be in the region and the one after must strive to achieve major policy shifts provincially related to land banks and start up capital for innovation in locally focused ag.

    1. Michael and Mac. Thanks for your replies, and for forgiving me my pique. At least, you were kind enough not to comment on it.
      Certainly, I cannot say you are wrong in your judgments about the poor chances for getting an ag land protection statement into the CWFAS, given the make-up of the current council. So be it.
      I must say, however, that I can see no reason to believe that one would have a better chance of stopping the reckless destruction of ag lands at the regional or provincial level. The blindness and denial of what we are doing to the planet, our refusal to see that economically based growth models must be replaced by environmentally based steady-state models…all that resistance must be overcome; not so one political ideology can triumph over another because of a moral or spiritual superiority, but out of sheer physical necessity. We are destroying the planet.
      Put up against that horrifying fact, a CWFAS without a strong ag land preservation clause can accomplish nothing of significance. Right now on the planet earth, what we are doing locally adds up to a global cataclysm, and it is as well fought at the municipal level as at any other.
      I understand, I think, and in normal circumstances can appreciate your “realpolitik”, but these are not normal times, they are end times, or something approaching them, and being realistic just doesn’t cut it. Alas, a poor chance, “what is not very likely at the moment” is the only chance we have.
      Be assured, by the way, my reference to end times has nothing to do with readings I have done in the Bible or Mayan calendar; I am going by what our best science and our best scientists are desperately trying to tell us.
      Cheers, (sort of),
      Fabian Jennings

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