The United Nations Brundtland commission’s definition of sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Historically, Alberta was built on agriculture which resulted in our cities and towns being mostly located on or near productive agricultural lands. As our cities and towns grew, our very best agricultural land was, and continues to be lost.
In Canada, our very best agricultural soil is classified as #1 (out of 7 classification levels-
Most of this prime #1 soil is located in Southern Ontario and Saskatchewan.
Strathcona County is blessed with having a significant amount of Alberta’s surviving #1 prime soil, almost all north of Highway 16. This relatively small swath of #1 prime soil at one time extended west of the North Saskatchewan River to approximately the location of the former Edmonton City Center Airport. Nearly half of this band of rich #1 soil has already been permanently lost for all time to urbanization.
Much of the nearly 10,000 acre, 16 square mile Bremner area is Class #1 Chernozemic soil
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernozem), a national treasure not to be squandered.
The remainder is classified as #2 (moderate limitations that restrict the range of crops), also highly productive. About 6-7% of Canada’s land area is suitable for farming. According to an article published in 2009 by Dalhousie University’s Organic Agriculture Center of Canada, only one half of one percent (0.5%) of Canada’s agricultural land base is designated as Class 1. Class 1 soil is defined as being able to support the production of any crop, without restriction. The article goes on to say that “Canada’s farmland is a finite resource. Once removed it cannot be recovered. Yet urban encroachment and development, poor farming practises and loosely structured land-use planning policies continue to erode the small amount of viable agricultural land available to Canadians. Ultimately, Canadians are losing the ability to feed themselves. This is, indeed, a matter of national security.”
The Alberta based ALCES Landscape and Land-use Group (Visit: www.alces.ca to read and view more) is projecting that given the present Alberta population growth rate and conversion of our most productive farmland to non-agricultural uses, Alberta will be a net importer of food by 2055. In other words within 40 years, given current land use practises, Alberta will no longer be able to feed itself.
The May cover of National Geographic reads, “EAT – THE NEW FOOD REVOLUTION.” This is the first of eight consecutive months of special articles addressing the world food crisis (visit: www.natgeofood.com to follow this series). The article opens with “By 2050 we’ll need to feed two billion more people”. It further states, “By 2050 the world’s population will likely increase by 35%. To feed that population, crop production will need to double. Why? Production will have to far outpace population growth as the developing world grows prosperous enough to eat more meat.”
This daunting forecast is substantiated by Dr. John Kennelly, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Alberta. Dr. Kennelly states “From 1950 to 1990, the world’s farmers improved their yields enough to feed a global population that doubled to 5.3 billion, with food prices declining by one percent a year. But, the rate of yield improvements has since slowed in most countries, including Canada, contributing to record-high food prices and growing concerns about food security. If we don’t reverse the trend, we’re in trouble. World food demand is expected to double again in the next 40 years.”
(U of A “New Trails” magazine, autumn 2012 http://newtrail.ualberta.ca/autumn2012/features/sustainablefoodproduction).
Edmonton is facing similar opposition to its expansion onto farmland in the northeast and the south. Strathcona County, unlike Edmonton, has options to build elsewhere rather than on prime agricultural land such as expanding the hamlets and steering new urban development towards areas with substandard soils of low environmental habitat value as noted in the 2003 Stantec study. Much of land in these areas are lower quality crop land. There is no comparison between the social and economic value of the prime agricultural soils in Bremner and the substandard agricultural land in Colchester. “Not all farmland is ‘prime’ agricultural land.”
The Alberta Minister of Agriculture acknowledges that the Municipal Government Act (MGA) entrusts land use decisions to municipalities, however he states that “…all municipalities are encouraged to identify lands where agricultural activities should be the primary land use, so as to limit their fragmentation and premature conversion to non-agricultural activities, and to direct development away from these lands so that agricultural activities are not constrained in the future.”
The Alberta Minister of Municipal Affairs states further that under section 639.1 of the Municipalities Act “…in preparing a land use bi-law, municipality MUST consider the protection of agricultural operations”.
Given a clear choice between initiating urban growth within Strathcona County’s most productive agricultural zone north of Highway 16 on #1 and #2 soils (Bremner), or south of Sherwood Park on a much less productive agricultural area with primarily #3, #4 and #5 soils (Colchester), a decision to proceed in Bremner will clearly be in violation of the spirit and the letter of the Alberta MGA.
Strathcona County, as one of the highest ranking municipalities in Canada, has the opportunity to demonstrate vision and leadership, and make a significant difference to the future food security for ourselves, our children, grandchildren and beyond. This council and community can either be a poster child for prime agricultural land preservation, or it can be part of the cause of a rapidly accelerating world food security crisis by unnecessarily promoting urban sprawl on our best agricultural land.
Please watch this video!MAKE A DIFFERENCE