Event review: the future of urban agriculture in the Alberta Capital Region

It was a packed house at the Art Gallery of Alberta‘s Ledcor Theatre. Squeezing into the last few back row seats, myself and the other late comers settled in to hear the latest take on the connection between agriculture, urban planning and the City of Edmonton. 


The Regional Planning Speaker Series has hosted a diverse and fantastic string of talks and panels by local and national experts. The lectures are put on by the University of Alberta’s City Regions Studies Centre to “bring together stakeholders (planners, architects, designers, community members, academics, students) in regional planning for learning opportunities, to build capacity for regional thinking and opportunities to connect, network with one another.” This panel edition tackled the interconnected and ever-political topic of agriculture in the urban environment. Following the fall’s debate of fresh: Food and Urban Agriculture Strategy, tonight’s event provided a new opportunity to debate our city’s role in urban agriculture. 


First up, Jennifer Cockrall-King, a local food blogger, advocate and writer, reminded us of our urban agriculture history here in Edmonton. From wartimes and pre-incorporation times, agriculture has found a productive home within city limits. Jennifer showcased leading examples of urban-ag-done-right from beekeeping in Paris to rooftop greenhouses in Montreal. Leaving us with the lush greenhouse  community garden  in Inuvik, Jennifer reminded us that “we don’t have any excuse” — food has a firm and rightful place to grow in Edmonton.

Candace Vanin provided the cold hard facts demonstrating the ‘Capital Advantage of the Capital Region’. As a professional agrologist currently with Agriculture & Agri-food Canada, Candace deftly explained a series of detailed maps covering everything from climatic zones to watersheds and their relation to Edmonton’s prime location for agriculture.  Candace combined the many, many layers of land characterization and guidance together into what I would call a “super map” and demonstrated the vast amount of information and the importance of weighing it when making City plans and policies. 


 The final panelist, Dustin Bajer, a permaculture designer and teacher at Jasper Place High School, took a high-level approach to the topic. Reaching back to the historical fertile crescent, Dustin guided us through the innate connection between agriculture –  allowing us to “stay put” – and the formation of cities. He described how the division of ‘the City’ and ‘the Farm’ has generated a number of problems but that many of their solutions lie in reconnecting the two. It was an inspiringly positive take on city-living as an opportunity to solve the problems associated with urban spaces through agriculture and design. 

This evening’s topic was timely as Candace noted that “there’s an important date this week” which one assumes is alluding to the Horsehill Area Structure Plan public hearing on Monday and Tuesday. Jennifer noted that Edmonton has a very engaged citizenship but that “we are at a point in our political system where the window might be closing”. To learn more, check out Friends of Farmers.

A lively discussion followed the formal panel and was well facilitated by the fine folks from the City Region Studies Centre. The crowd asked for perspectives on community resources, talking to the “un-converted” and getting your hands dirty. The talk spilled into the foyer and continued on with a decadent spread and (if you’ll allow me) plenty of food for thought.