Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 16, 2009
Church groups take part in lobby to save farmland
Greater Edmonton Alliance pushing for local food security
The Greater Edmonton Alliance wants to see quality farmland in the Edmonton area preserved to ensure a food supply for future generations.
BY GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - The Greater Edmonton Alliance is trying to get the capital region to come to grips with its transportation-intensive system of producing and distributing food.
It has a novel goal - produce most of the food eaten by Edmontonians in the Edmonton area. Achieving that goal would help sustain local farmers, provide local food consumers with fresher produce and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
GEA has trained its sights on the City of Edmonton's Municipal Development Plan, trying to get agricultural land in and around Edmonton protected from development.
Roughly 90 per cent of the food sold in the region is imported from outside. The average meal travels an estimated 2,000 km from field to fork. The city has only a three-day supply of food on hand, a tiny amount that would not withstand a serious emergency.
Only 17 per cent of Alberta's land is good for farming, most of it in the Calgary-Edmonton corridor where there is tremendous pressure to develop that land for other purposes.
"You're not going to renovate your house and get rid of the kitchen," GEA's Michael Walters says of the trend to pave over farmland to provide more housing, retail and industrial development.
GEA - an alliance of churches, unions and other community groups in the Edmonton area - last November got more than 500 people out to City Hall to support its presentation on the Municipal Development Plan. Its representatives have met with the 25-mayor Capital Region Board and are starting to meet with the mayors individually.
"There is definite momentum. We have changed the nature of the debate," Walters said in an interview.
City council passed the first draft of its development plan, but not without asking for revisions to protect high yield farmland and calling for a food security study for Edmonton.
The plan will come back to council April 23.
In the current plan, agricultural land inside the city limits is classified as growth management areas - "which is just a fancy word for saying we're going to develop them when we need to develop them," Walters said.
Miles Berry of St. Michael-Resurrection Parish's social justice committee is also active with GEA. "When you're looking at removing some of the richest topsoil in the city, we have a duty as Catholics to scrutinize it," he said, adding there is a need for more Catholic involvement.
"I look at this in terms of land stewardship, which is prime Catholic social teaching."
Berry says GEA is not proposing an end to development, but rather wants to see a balance between the interests of farmers and those of developers.
GEA got involved with the food issue more than two years ago when it worked with the congregation of Ebenezer United Church to hold a parish supper using only local produce.
Walters said they got little satisfaction from grocery stores. Of 26 food items that are produced locally, no store made more than six of them available to its customers.
GEA talked with store managers but found they had little control over what items to stock. Decisions were being made as far away as Toronto, he said.
Ebenezer United hosted a second dinner last April, this one bringing together local farm families and members of 11 churches. The alliance then held a leadership training workshop that looked at the current industrial food system and ways to create a more sustainable locally-based food system.
It has continued to bring together farmers and "organized eaters" who are committed to buying food from the farmers. At the same time, it has taken on the political and economic trends that undermine local food production - the paving over of agricultural land being a major one.
"We cannot assume that we will still be driving our cars into the Superstore parking lot to get our food 60 years from now," Walters said. "We need to know how we're going to feed ourselves in this region."
Previous methods of land development have been inefficient with little thought given to preservation of farmland, he said. "Now, we're making some headway. They're actually talking about legislating protection of agricultural land."