I spent many summers “apprenticing” with my grandmother on our family farm. That experience taught me the importance of how food and agricultural practice can build better communities. Prior to being elected to City Council, I had the privilege to work with farmers from the Horse Hill region. Together, we worked to create opportunities for the citizens of the City to get their hands dirty engaging in urban agriculture and in creating policies to support it.
My work with farmers from Horse Hill is part of the reason I’m supportive of the Horse Hill Neighbourhood 2 Structural Plan (NSP). It’s a proposal that will see some of the land (long sold to land developers) in the region developed into a neighbourhood that prioritizes food production and agriculture as central and vital to the wellbeing of the community.
The best of both worlds
In my opinion, the Horse Hill Neighbourhood 2 Structural Plan represents the best of both worlds. The proposed development is higher density, has great walkability, and has been designed with sustainability in mind. What’s more, private agricultural lands have been protected in the plan, meaning that residential development will co-exist with farmland.
I was pleased to see how mindful the development team was of the importance of preserving the farmland in the region. This innovative blending of two worlds, urban and rural, is promising; if successful, future developments around the City could benefit from this type of integrative approach.
In my mind, this plan is a win-win. Farmers who attended the Public Hearing on the development this week had some positive things to say about how their lands were incorporated into the proposal.
Clarity about the highway
However, many citizens and farmers remain very concerned about a proposed heavy haul bridge conceptualized in the area. This bridge potentially threatens the beating heart of agriculture in Horse Hill specifically the farms and businesses of Riverbend and Lady Flower Gardens. The good news is there is no certainty the bridge will be built there, and a planning study is now underway to determine its appropriate alignment. The study will include significant input from stakeholders like Riverbend Gardens and other landowners. Council has asked to be kept well informed about the progress of the study. The City of Edmonton, the City of Fort Saskatchewan and the counties of Sturgeon and Strathcona are conducting the study. The study, also being supported by the Province, will take 18 months to complete.
Protecting farms with good buffers
Notwithstanding the outcome of the bridge study, the proposed development includes preservation of private agricultural lands. To accommodate the existing properties, buffers are going to be created between the agricultural land and the developed areas. These buffers can take on several forms, such as setbacks, hedgerows, and other types of landscaping.
For farmers, this means that their lands remain protected from the potential impacts of residential development. For future residents of the development, it means that they will be surrounded by some of Alberta’s loveliest farmland, while enjoying urban amenities like transit, schools, and a vibrant town centre.
Garden space for everyone?
Another great element of the project is the incorporation of opportunities for Conservation Cluster Residential Development, where housing density is increased in order to provide significant space for larger plot community garden space.
The plan includes elements of edible landscaping, greenhouses, and community gardens in many of the parks that are accessible to the public. The development team for the project took Edmonton’s FRESH: Food and Urban Agriculture strategy and incorporated many of the goals for creating strong local food culture into the plan. It’s wonderful to see these objectives being put into action and making a real impact on how we approach designing new neighbourhoods.
As we move forward to the development of Horse Hill, I will be making it a priority to keep the integration of agricultural practice front of mind. My hope is that this neighbourhood will bring together food producers and food consumers in a symbiotic and sustained relationship that will strengthen the community for years to come.
For more of my thoughts on issues pertaining to food policy and urban agriculture, I’ve posted a link below to a keynote speech I gave last weekend at the U of A’s Sustainability Summit, whose focus this year was Food for Thought - Exploring pathways to sustainable food systems. Many of the issues I discussed at the summit pertain directly to the issues at play in the development of the Horse Hill area.