As May approaches, Edmonton’s community of gardeners, green thumbs and food enthusiasts aren’t the only ones planting and planning for the season: the city itself is getting one step closer to amending a bylaw that would make it easier for urban agriculture to take root and thrive.
It could result in more commercial agriculture on vacant lots, edible landscapes on front lawns, aquaponics projects, backyard honey bees and chickens, rooftop gardens or even projects focused on cultivating the art of “entomophagy”—eating insects—in Edmonton.
The bylaw is about “enabling and encouraging” blue-sky visioning and creative ways for Edmontonians to experiment with growing food in the city, according to Hani Quan, a principal planner with the City of Edmonton. Quan is a key organizer behind the Edmonton Food Council and fresh: Edmonton’s Food and Urban Agriculture Strategy, a guiding framework on food security that was approved in November 2012.
“There [was] a gap in our zoning bylaw,” Quan says. “There was nothing that spoke to, well, if you wanted to farm commercially in the city what would be that categorized as?”
The proposed bylaw amendment would classify urban agriculture as a specific land-use and streamline the process for citizens to apply for permits in the city—with the exception of a few zones—to grow food for community consumption and commercial sale.
Citizen support surges
“The time is right in Edmonton,” Quan notes enthusiastically. “There’s a lot of people trying to push the envelope right now around urban agriculture. There’s more and more people coming to Edmonton for various reasons, and a lot of them are young professionals who’ve been in places around the world where food is important, and they want to see that here.”
In Edmonton there are currently over 80 community gardens, 40 food trucks and more than 25 farmers’ markets—all of these food ventures have exploded over the past decade.
Quan credits the work of Edmonton’s Food Council, a volunteer board of city professionals who developed the concept of fresh over the past two years and have more recently advised the city on the proposed bylaw changes.
“We wanted this zoning bylaw to reflect what we felt could be the reality in the future,” says Mary Bailey, co-chair of the Edmonton Food Council.
She says the council has played a critical role in doing research on different models across North America to best advise on urban agriculture in Edmonton. While she stresses that it should be “low-intensity and low-impact” to avoid causing problems for neighbours, Bailey also recognizes the opportunity for better utilizing vacant land in the city.
“The bylaw [would] leave the door open for people to access land in the city that isn’t really being used to grow vegetables and flowers—I think that’s a good thing,” Bailey says.
She points to the success story of urban agriculture in Detroit, a city that’s rebounding from economic depression by transforming under-utilized lots and spaces into places to grow food, feed local populations and stimulate jobs and market opportunities.
“People are growing vegetables in neighbourhoods where houses were falling down because nobody lived in them,” Bailey adds. “Why just let land sit there when you can do something with it? If you look at it from any angle, socially or financially, it’s a positive approach to land-use.”