My heart is sorrowful. In our church we have had much discussion about caring for the gift of creation that we are all part of and that we are called to be stewards for. In the past few years, preserving the agricultural land in northeast Edmonton has been a matter of much prayer, prayer that city councilors would value the integral spirit of the land and preserve its giftedness for us and for future generations.
At the public hearings for the City-Wide Food and Agricultural Strategy at city hall this fall, I heard one of the majority landowners state that as long as they could not build on or develop the land they considered it “sterile”. The land can’t speak for itself. But if it could I am sure it would most vigorously object to being called “sterile”. It would say, “Me? Sterile? Out of my womb I am providing you every year with thousands of pounds of vegetables, potatoes, carrots, spinach, cabbage, and berries of all kinds. Those who want to sterilize me have been minimizing my importance to you, but let me assure you, if am allowed to produce I will greatly enhance the food quality and security for your children and their children’schildren. Not to brag, but I am special compared to other lands. In the spring, because I am in the river valley, I wake up two weeks earlier then the rest of the land and in the fall I go to sleep two weeks later. If you have a garden you know the great difference four weeks can make in growing vegetables. Most lands in Alberta are best suited for grain crops. I, in contrast, am superbly suited for your essential root crops. I am a sandy loam soil and, with my partner the great Saskatchewan River hydrating my body through irrigation, I am able to give you, my Edmonton friends, a great wealth of fresh fruits and vegetables. One acre of potatoes will provide 400 families with 100 pounds each—enough for a year! One acre of fruit and vegetable growing can net from $6300 to $30,000 per acre in production depending on the size of the farm, the farming practice and the type of produce grown. The ones farming here today love me, not just because they are making a good living growing vegetables, but because they honour me for what I am able to produce.”
As Edmontonians we are proud of having 27,400 acres of parkland in the city; to preserve another1400 acres for agriculture along the river in the northeast is a pittance, less than 1% of the area of the City as a whole. So why is city council nixing that vision? Is it because city council is under a spell of so-called urban progress, or is it as some have suggested they are beholden to the developers, either in being their friends or having had campaign contributions from them? If the latter is true they need to come clean and refrain from making decisions on this land. The farmland in question is too precious to be sold for 30 pieces of silver.
Hundreds of citizens came to the hearings in favor of preserving the land, but this did not convince city council to even explore the possibility of retaining the land before approving a development plan that will rezone the land for residential development. City council is ready to throw away a once in the-history-of-Edmonton opportunity. We need to break the spell that blinds our leaders to our real needs and hopes for the future of our city.
People of faith have been instrumental in changing the politics of the day. Think of the civil rights movement, the Mackenzie pipeline hearings, and now Idle No More. My prayer is that the people of faith in Edmonton will once again offer up their own living prayers. Perhaps some of us will write our Councilors and ask them to take the time to gather good information before making any land use decisions for Northeast Edmonton. Maybe we could attend the February 25 and 26 Northeast Area Structure Plan public hearings at City Hall and invite everyone we know to be there. Perhaps faith communities could organize petitions to city council. Some of us might even sign up to speak on behalf of the land and future generations.
Can we the people advocate for the land to be used in a way that gives life to all including future generations? In faith, prayer and action all things are possible.
Reverend Harry Kuperus is a retired pastor and chaplain living in Edmonton.