The Strathcona County Agricultural Master Plan: Part 1 of 2
by Rob Sproule
Vision for the Future
No matter which way you look at it, Strathcona County is a complex place. Designated as a “specialized municipality,” urban and rural areas are governed by the same elected Council. We have everything from rolling farmland to colossal up-graders with their labyrinths of pipes, and from horse stables to world-class innovation and technology.
In January of 2014, our Council asked the Agricultural Services Board to develop a cohesive strategy which would frame the future of agriculture within the County. It was a daunting task, and the resultant “Agricultural Master Plan” would have to be as complex as the County, itself. It needed to speak to everything from preserving precious soils to embracing innovations in urban farming.
Last year the “AMP” was completed and approved by Council. Now the work of implementing its 5 key strategies begins. Keep your eyes and ears open for ample changes to express your opinion about the strategies below over the next few years.
The AMP embraces the complexity of the County, and almost every strategy involves increasing cooperation between rural and urban agricultural stakeholders in one way or another. I’m personally excited that we finally have a vision that’s focused on sustainable innovation, a vision that will ensure a richer community for our children in the coming decades.
Here are the 5 strategies in more detail. It will take 4-5 years to implement them all, and these are bare bones summaries. For more info, go to the source at http://www.strathcona.ca/departments/transportation-and-agriculture-services/agriculture-services/agriculture-master-plan/.
Urban Agriculture: This one is so exciting to me that I’m devoting my next article to looking at it in more detail, so stay tuned!
Land Use and Development Strategy: Sherwood Park is not alone with the dilemma of growth vs farmland. Cities across Canada are becoming acutely aware of how valuable our rich top soil is, with Ontario and B.C. even implementing agricultural land preserves to protect dwindling farmland.
This strategy will feature ongoing consultation so that you can have your say. The final strategy is set to be ready end 2017, and will address potential changes to land designation, zoning and planning and will balance that against the need to allow continuing agricultural endeavours.
Governance Strategy: While it doesn’t have the most exciting name, this strategy seeks to harness the County’s existing capacity to make us an agricultural innovation leader in the Capital Region. The goal is to build an organizational structure that strives for excellence by encouraging cooperation between rural and urban producers.
Food and Agricultural Sector Development: When it comes to growing food in the County, there are two things happening. The first is that interest in local food is growing- quickly. The second is that there’s no central voice to advocate for agriculture in the County.
The vision of the AMP is to develop a Food and Agriculture Institute, which would represent a blend of voices from a wide range of agricultural sectors. From advocacy of agricultural concerns to youth outreach, the Institute will work to promote agricultural interests throughout the County.
Agri-Tourism: The last strategy to implement, which won’t be until the end of 2019 on the current timeline, is looking at how to bring tourism into our gorgeous County. With vistas of rolling hills, the Beaver Hills Moraine, numerous lakes and more horses per capita than anywhere in Canada, the stage is set for us to attract more visitors.
This is an exciting strategy that seeks to connect with existing agri-tourism operators, tap into markets of opportunity (like the almost 1,000,000 potential visitors living minuets away), and showcase practices in rural and urban agriculture that break down barriers between the two of them.