Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 24, 2003
Be stewards of the city's land
Area farmers urge citizens to create a protected unique north-east greenbelt
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
The northeast corner of Edmonton is a farm belt unique in the province and should be spared urban development, says retired farmer Jim Visser.
"This particular land has some special qualities and it's because of that we should conserve it," he said Nov. 18.
Visser, a retired potato farmer, is head of Topsoil, a group of area farmers who want the city to create a special green zone in the northeast corner of the city, namely the area south of Manning Drive and north of the North Saskatchewan River.
Stewards for God
"We are asked by God to care for what he's made and given us," he says. "And when there is a resource there that's valuable for generations and generations then we shouldn't just turn it into a piece of real estate and just profit from it by putting it on the marketplace. We should put a conservation ethic to the land so that it can do what our Creator intended it to do."
Although the land was annexed by the city in 1981, it is still largely agricultural and features greenhouse operations, market gardens and tree nurseries. There also are some wheat fields, canola fields and some larger potato fields.
And the black, sandy soil in the area is ideal for farming because it warms up very fast, said Visser. "We also have a microclimate that gives us a longer growing period than the central part of the province." The growing period in the area is 135 days, compared to 100 days in the Red Deer and Calgary areas.
"There is some excellent farmland in this area that we want to preserve. Our concern is that eventually this will become urban sprawl and we have seen too much sprawling going on already," Visser said.
"Good planning should not be a planning process that promotes urban sprawl but then we also have this reality of a very unique soil here that deserves to be preserved for future generations."
Following annexation developers bought a good portion of the land in question - some 5,000 acres out of a total 8,000 acres. And the process continues with many more large parcels being purchased by land bankers and developers. Since the land is still zoned for agriculture, the new property owners have been leasing the land back to local farmers.
"The heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament declares his handiwork."
- Psalm 19:1
"We have to stop the steam-rollers," said Richard Brenneis, a Topsoil member who has been growing vegetables in the area since the 1960s. "This land is exceptionally good and there has been market gardens growing here for the last 70-80 years. But it is slowly disappearing because there are developers and speculators buying off some of the land and developers want to take over and it's disappearing. That's all there is to it."
He figures development will reach 167th Avenue within five years "if we don't stop it."
"I would hope that the public realized the importance of this area as a food source," he said. "Most of the farmers' markets throughout Edmonton are fed from this area."
But he said the city is listening "and the (city's) planning division is sympathetic to our cause but they don't make the final decision and there is a tremendous amount of pressure from rich developers." And he said many of his neighbours are very anxious to sell at high prices. Land in the area is selling for about $7,000 an acre.
If developers want to put houses on the land, they have to get a rezoning permit. "But we are working to prevent this from happening," Visser said. "We believe it's our duty to preserve this land for future generations."
He and Brenneis said the city has no plans to change the zoning of the area any time soon but think it would be wise for Edmontonians to act now before developers get the upper hand and pressure to develop heats up.