Translating the City’s report on the Food & Agriculture Strategy

The agenda for next week’s non-statutory public hearing on the Food & Agriculture Strategy is now available online, as is the final draft of fresh: Edmonton’s Food and Urban Agriculture Strategy. In addition to some tidying up and a “fresh” new look, the final draft includes an executive summary. Here’s an excerpt:

fresh is not an endpoint, but a starting point. With that in mind, the Strategy does not provide a detailed implementation plan, but rather sets directions for moving forward. Implementation will occur over time as the Edmonton Food Council is established, partnerships are formed, research is continued, resources are allocated and progress builds towards results.

fresh

Also included in the agenda is a nine-page report prepared by Administration with an overview of the strategy, commentary on the recommendations, and a recommendation to Executive Committee on how to proceed. Here is the recommendation:

That Executive Committee recommend to City Council:

  1. That fresh: Edmonton’s Food and Urban Agriculture Strategy, as outlined in Attachment 1 of the Sustainable Development report 2012SPE029, be endorsed in principle.
  2. That implementation of fresh (Edmonton’s Food and Urban Agriculture Strategy) be postponed pending Administration reporting to Executive Committee in the first quarter of 2013 on the options and costs.

Endorsed in principle, but with implementation delayed pending an update on options and costs. I wasn’t entirely sure why they’d structure the recommendation that way. I mean, since when does Administration implement anything without first gathering options and costs? Why couldn’t Council approve the strategy, if they think it is ready to be approved, and then direct Administration to start implementation immediately, the first step of which might be to gather more information on costs?

So I kept reading. Here are the final remarks in the report:

While Administration views the recommendations of fresh as being generally reasonable and worthy of follow up, it also sees it being prudent to postpone implementation of fresh pending the development of a better shared understanding between Council and Administration on the options and costs to implement the Strategy.

Notwithstanding advice to postpone its implementation, endorsement of fresh in principle will satisfy the requirements of Municipal Development Plan Policy 3.2.1.7 relative to enabling consideration of future Area Structure Plans and will provide City Council with the means to evaluate future Area Structure Plans for the Urban Growth Areas by way of the tool kit contained in strategic direction 9 (see Attachment 3).

Right, so allow me to translate. Administration is basically saying: “Look, we have the development industry breathing down our neck and we need to get this taken care of ASAP so that the Area Structure Plans in the Urban Growth Areas can move forward. We know the recommendation that deals with land use raises a bunch of questions, but we don’t think it is important to answer those right now. Also, we don’t want your endorsement to necessarily commit us to implementing anything, even something as straightforward as establishing a food council, so we’re just going to come back with a report on costs and go from there. Cool?”

No, not cool.

I’d encourage you to read through the documents here in more detail.

Despite clear public input, Edmonton’s draft Food & Agriculture Strategy lacks recommendation to preserve agricultural land

The City of Edmonton released the draft of its Food and Urban Agriculture Strategy yesterday. The 94 page document is called “fresh” and is labeled “version 3”. I’ll be digesting it (and the other 8 associated documents) over the next week or so, but I wanted to share something that I noticed right away. Despite clear public input that Edmonton should preserve agricultural land, the strategy makes no such recommendation. Instead, a “framework” is provided to aid City Council in its decision.

As I wrote back in July, the contentious part of the strategy relates to land use and the preservation of agricultural land within city limits, particularly in the northeast. Deciding what to do with municipal land should never be easy – we should be forced to seriously consider options to make the best decision for the city. Ultimately the decision rests with Council, but I’m disappointed that given the clear feedback on this issue from the public, the Advisory Committee responsible for the strategy chose not to make a clear recommendation.

Section 5.9, under the heading “The Complexity of Issues”, reads:

The Direction to Integrate Land for Agriculture was the most difficult the Advisory Committee tackled. The Committee agreed that some prime agricultural land must be protected for future use and generations, identifying that a need exists for food production within Edmonton. At the same time, Committee members agreed that given the diverse interests represented across the Committee, it could not, and should not be the body to determine how much land should be protected versus developed in specific locations in the Urban Growth Areas. These decisions should be made through existing regulated processes by City Council.

A recommendation is very different than a Council vote. There’s no way the Advisory Committee could have been “the body to determine how much land should be protected versus developed.” Its recommendation to “treat food waste as a resource”, for example, does not detail the specific amounts of food waste that should be dealt with, so why would the Advisory Committee be expected to detail the amount of land to be preserved? The rationale for avoiding a clear recommendation on this issue leaves me unsatisfied.

The Advisory Committee was made up of “fourteen citizens from different parts of Edmonton and with different interests in the food and agriculture sector.” I suppose it should be no surprise that farmers and land developers would differ over what to do with a piece of land. Stakeholders and other citizens were much less divided on the issue, however. Let’s take a look at some of the other documents that were released alongside the draft strategy.

First, we have the Public Opinion Survey Report. It outlines the results of the survey the City ran from June 4 to June 23 (a total of 2,269 people participated). In the open comment box in the section on growing and producing food, the feedback was clear:

“…a number of clear themes emerged, the most emphatically expressed being to preserve arable land, particularly in the Northeast corner of the city.”

Of the 1388 people that left additional comments, 349 or 25% mentioned the importance of preserving municipal agricultural land, the largest of any theme.

Next we have Stakeholder Group Summary for Round 1 and Round 2. In the first round, there were “differing opinions about land use when it comes to agriculture in the City” with passionate arguments on both sides. The second round was much less ambiguous. “The vast majority of respondents agreed that providing land for growing food was a sound direction for Edmonton.”

Finally, there’s the Citizen Panel Report. The sixty-six panelists settled on ten “best of the best” strategies and in their cover letter encouraged City Council and the Advisory Committee to begin implementing them as recommendations. Their top two both deal with preserving agricultural land:

Strategy 1: Create and/or amend zoning, bylaws, fees, and taxes to prohibit developments on good fertile agricultural land, particularly the northeast farmland.

Strategy 2: Maximize spaces and places within the City of Edmonton for urban growing and food production. Develop systems for permanent and ongoing identification, inventory, and assessment of urban spaces for urban growing. The inventory includes identifying the water and soil suitability for a variety of local crops. Create accountable and objective monitoring.

There was a quite a range of participants on the panel, both in terms of age but also background. As you might expect, there were differing opinions on many issues, but the importance of preserving agricultural land was much less controversial:

Panellists were not always in agreement and throughout the Citizen panel there was in depth discussion, dialogue and areas of disagreement. However, the panellists did agree to put forward the overall strategies as outlined in this document. They also clearly articulated a critical need for political will and leadership on issues related to food and agriculture, and the importance of using municipal policy tools to protect existing agricultural land within Edmonton’s city boundaries. Participants also repeatedly expressed, in the strongest possible terms, their desire to see these recommendations treated as high-priority action items.

From the online survey to the stakeholder groups to the citizen panel, the feedback is clear: preserving agricultural land within the City’s boundaries is important. It’s too bad that a clear recommendation to reflect that is not found in the draft strategy.

The draft strategy will be discussed at a non-statutory public hearing on October 26, and you’re encouraged to provide input before that date. There are two open houses taking place this week, downtown on Wednesday and in Old Strathcona on Thursday, and so far they are the only two opportunities to learn more about the draft strategy. You can provide input at those events, by filling out the online survey, and of course by contacting your Councillor at any time.

Here is some other reaction to the draft strategy that you should read:

Farming in the City: Guided Bus Tours of Edmonton’s Northeast

About a month ago I shared with you some thoughts on the ongoing battle over food, agriculture, and Edmonton’s future growth. I noted that changes seem most imminent for the northeast part of the city, where land has been changing hands and individuals and organizations have been lining up on all sides of the issue. Talking about the agricultural land there is one thing, but seeing it firsthand as I did on my tour of Riverbend Gardens back in 2010 and at The Great Potato Giveaway is quite another. Now you have the opportunity to visit the area for yourself with the Farming in the City Guided Bus Tours:

Live Local and the Greater Edmonton Alliance (GEA) are proud to present the Farming in the City guided bus tour Sunday August 26, 2012. This will be your chance to tour some of Edmonton’s treasured agricultural lands and meet the farmers who nurture the soils and supply us with their amazing bounty!

Each informative and entertaining 3 hour tour will be led by a guide who will share the history of the northeast food lands. You will have the opportunity to visit a number of producers who will tour you through their farms, allowing you to see, smell, touch and taste the fruits (and veggies) of their labour!

The event is being organized by a small group of volunteers, some with ties to the Greater Edmonton Alliance. I had the opportunity to chat with three of them, Rachael Borley, Christiane Moquin, and Anna Vesala, to learn more about the event. The organizers are hoping to engage the general population with this event, not just “foodies” or people who are already familiar with the area. “It’s important to have a connection with the farmers and to see how they make their living,” Christiane told me. “People can then make their own decisions.” Rachael is hoping that families will “come and see what’s out there” and noted that the event is definitely family-friendly.

Riverbend Gardens
Riverbend Gardens

With the Food in the City report due back to City Council in the fall, there’s no question that this event is more than just a family outing however. There will be tour guides on each bus who will offer some history and explain things as the tour progresses, though the organizers stressed that they will be “sticking to the facts.” A couple of stops along the way will provide visitors with the opportunity to see the farms, fruit, and vegetables up close. At Horse Hill Berry Farm, visitors will get the chance to forage and taste some berries!

The event takes place on Sunday, August 26. Live Local and Northlands are partners, with Live Local providing the online ticketing and Northlands offering up its vast parking lot as the pickup and dropoff spot for the tours. Buses depart and return every 45 minutes, and each tour is roughly 3 hours long (the first bus departs at 8:30am). Tickets are $10 per person, or $25 for a family. You can pick your timeslot and get your tickets here.

The Great Potato Giveaway
The Great Potato Giveaway at Norbest Farms

If you’ve been curious about the northeast and want to learn more, this is the perfect opportunity to do just that. Don’t miss it!

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?