The Strathcona County Agricultural Master Plan: Part 2 of 2: Urban Agriculture
by Rob Sproule
Strathcona County’s Agricultural Master Plan is as diversified as our County, with dual emphasis on rural and urban agriculture (and potential synergies between them). While most people associate the term “agriculture” with combines and canola, urbanites are increasingly taking up the trowel to assert, innovate, and harvest into the future.
In 2014, Council asked the Agriculture Services Board to develop a framework for the future of agriculture in the County. After synthesizing hundreds of public and stakeholder meetings, the “AMP” was completed and approved by Council in late 2015.
The AMP lays out 5 strategies for our shared agricultural future. They’ll roll out in approximately one year intervals, and I touched upon the latter four in my last column. Today, I want to delve into the first strategy, urban agriculture, a topic, which I’m particularly passionate about.
What is Urban Agriculture?
In its broadest sense, urban ag is growing and harvesting food in a built up, urban setting. While not the most stimulating definition, the magic happens when you get into the specifics of what that looks like.
In towns and cities, with a distinct shortage of endless pastures, growing food becomes highly focused, deliberate, and imaginative. Instead of planting large gardens, people with small yards are growing “up” with vertical or stacked gardening, “contained” in salad-ready container gardens, and even “inside” with hydroponics. Square Foot Gardening
With microcosmic bits of nature to work with, urban farmers have largely chosen sustainability, turning yards into ecosystems harbouring peppers to predators to wood-packers and everything in between. Family-friendly spaces thrive, and urban ag is always on the cutting edge of organic methods.
From February to November 2016, the Agriculture Services Board members will engage as much public feedback as possible about how aspects of urban ag the AMP should embrace. It’s a staggering complex area, with everything from backyard chickens to commercial hydroponics operations up for consideration.
In order to create a strategy that embraces diversity (and which is about such a diverse subject) any topic the public brings forward will examined. To name just a few that the Ag Services Board has on their radar:
- Community Gardening: the guidelines will be examined to try and make sure that everyone who wants to garden to have the opportunity. Perhaps there are different models to explore.
- Urban Farmers’ Market: Markets are thriving in Alberta with several right here in the County (including the County’s first year-round Market at Salisbury).
- Reviewing the Animal Control Bylaw, specifically to see if backyard beekeeping, which is becoming the norm in Canadian cities, and/or urban hens for backyard egg production, is feasible in Sherwood Park. Anyone who knows me or reads my column has heard me preach the many merits of backyard bees.
- For-Profit urban farming. Yep, there’s money to be made, lots of it. Hydroponic, organic, and small-scale produced veggies and herbs are big business, which in turn means jobs and tax dollars. We’re seeking public feedback around projects to focus on and how to encourage the right companies into the County.
If any of the topics listed above sparked your imagination, or if you have ideas about how to improve our County via urban ag, the Ag Services Board wants to hear from you. February to June is all about gathering your feedback, so cheek the Sherwood Park News, the County website, or County Facebook and Twitter feeds for information about public consultations.