Regional Agricultural Master Plan Task Force
Municipalities can be key decision-makers about food security and farmland preservation in Alberta. But if we’re serious, we must collaborate and strategize with our neighbouring municipalities to make sure our prime agricultural land is preserved regionally and that we have an excellent vision for a strong local food and agricultural economy. Development of the new Regional Agricultural Master Plan (RAMP) started just last week and we have the following goals:
• Identify a supply of Prime Agricultural land to conserve for future food security
• Reduce fragmentation and conversions of agricultural land
• Promote the growth and diversification of the agri-economy
My grandmother moved to Canada from Ukraine in 1923 at the age of nine. In families that were eternally food insecure, with all hope tethered to rays of sun and drops of rain, nine year old children were farmers, with all aspects of their lives tied closely to food. Our relationship to food is constantly evolving and while I, like many others, now live as an urbanite in a world detached from food production and with relative food abundance, we must remember that fundamentally, food production and access to land go hand-in-hand.
Alberta’s agricultural industry has tripled in value in the last 25 years, accounting for $14 billion a year in sales in Alberta, and employing over 27,000 people in some 450 businesses. However, with Edmonton and Calgary experiencing the fastest growth rates in Canada, agricultural land is being fragmented and pushed into marginal areas that were once grassland and forest at an alarming rate. With only 5% of land in Canada not being hampered by severe constraints for crop production, we must ask ourselves, where is our food going to come from in the next 25 years?
Alberta Open Farm Days 2017 - Farmers and ranchers invite urban and rural neighbours to stop in for a visit to share stories, see demonstrations, and learn more about the farmers who grow their food | http://albertafarmdays.com
The RAMP is being developed by a task force set by the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board (EMRB). The EMRB is the same growth management board that created the award-winning Edmonton Regional Growth Plan. We need to tap back into the successes that came from collaboration with the whole region to drive the development of the RAMP. With these municipalities working together we can maximize success in farmland preservation.
The RAMP will be a planning document that will provide the regions decision makers with further policy direction and tools to support and sustain rural and urban agriculture. With increased certainty and flexibility, the existing agricultural sector can capitalize further on agricultural opportunities and enable growth and sustainability of our agricultural sector for future generations.
GROWING FOOD LOCALLY BENEFITS EVERYONE
Sustaining Edmonton's vibrant local food economy has economic, environmental and social benefits. While money spent at big corporate stores almost immediately leaves the community, money spent on local food circulates 8 to 15 times in the local economy, bringing sustainable, recession-proof jobs, increased tax base and increased income. A 20% shift of food dollars to local food would result in around 21,000 new jobs and an increased output of over $2 billion.
Farms and community and market gardens provide carbon sequestration, stormwater management, water filtration and maintain ecological networks and habitats for biodiversity. With 19% of our ecological footprint tied to food consumption, reducing the distance food needs to travel is integral to reducing GHG emissions. In Canada, food travels an average of 2,400 kilometers from field to plate.
Increased access to high-quality, nutritious, local food lowers rates of obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease and other diet-related illnesses, reducing health costs and increasing quality of life. Farms and community and market gardens are gathering places that encourage healthy, active lifestyles and create a vibrant public space where many interest and age groups can gather, interact and build relationships.
Edmonton's Old Strathcona Farmers' Market | http://bit.ly/2I9eUiz
All people should have reasonable physical and economic access to an adequate amount of food to satisfy their own health and their families health. Some of the responsibility for low-cost food go to grocery stores where there is more than just fresh produce. Options, like co-ops, exist, but I want to give a shout out to Matt & Ashley’s No Frills in Petrolia Mall. This location is located in one of my favourite neighbourhoods and has provided a low-cost grocery store in an urban food desert. With regards to farmers markets, studies show that farmers market prices are highly competitive with those at grocery stores and in this case study, the farmers market basket was 11.5% cheaper. Without the middleman, farmers can increase their profits and still offer low prices on fresh produce.
I am excited to continue work to continue to foster a cohesive metro region and tackle our need for improved discussion and policy around land use and preserving quality agricultural land as Alberta grows.
“Money does not bring forth food. Neither does the technology of the food system. Food comes from nature and from the work of people. If the supply of food is to be continuous for a long time, then people must work in harmony with Nature.” - Wendell Berry.