After a year of significant expansion, the Edmonton Urban Farm continues to grow, as staff plan to add infrastructure, further diversify its community of farmers, and open its doors to the public on a regular basis.
Established in 2014, the Edmonton Urban Farm is made up of two acres at 113 Avenue and 79 Street. In addition to garden plots, it is also home to a beehive and six egg-laying hens. The farm's goal is to connect people to food and farming within the city, said Jessie Radies, a director with Explore Edmonton.
"The urban farm is a community hub for urban agriculture, education, and sustainability," Radies told Taproot. "It's also a thriving example of how surplus urban lands can be used to build connections and enhance local food security."
For the first time, the Urban Farm will be open to the public from 10am to 4pm every Saturday until Oct. 8. Visitors can opt for a self-guided walk or join scheduled activities.
With the dissolution of Northlands in 2021, Explore Edmonton took over the management of the Urban Farm. That same year, the farm doubled in size thanks to grants from the United Way and the Butler Family Foundation. Last month, Prairies Economic Development Canada announced the Urban Farm would receive nearly $100,000 to further enhance the property.
"This project encompasses the expansion that happened last year, which expanded the urban farm by 30,000 square feet," said Radies. "It will also allow us to add infrastructure to extend our growing season and provide a shaded area for visitors to protect from heat and rain."
The Urban Farm allocates plots to partner community groups, and this year, it will involve over 300 people from 20 different groups, including Homeward Trust, Right at Home Housing Society, and the Student Association of MacEwan University. Many newcomers to Canada have been connected to the farm through Multicultural Health Brokers, said agriculture education specialist Patty Milligan.
"Some are experienced gardeners or farmers, some are brand new to gardening in general, and some are brand new to gardening in Alberta," said Milligan. "We'll be helping gardeners become familiar with the unique requirements of Alberta's climate."
The participating newcomers represent a diverse array of cultural communities, including Afghan, Filipino, Karen, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Somali, Syrian, South Sudanese, and Vietnamese.
"Groups appreciate being able to grow specific vegetables that are not easily found in Edmonton supermarkets, or, if they are, they are very expensive," said Milligan. "One group grew three different kinds of bok choy last year. Several groups appreciated being able to harvest pumpkin leaves, amaranth, and bean leaves. I suspect those varieties will expand in the coming year."
As all plots were already spoken for earlier in the year, it is clear that interest from prospective gardeners continues to be strong. Milligan cites a number of factors, such as a desire to gather with other members of the community and an appetite to gain gardening knowledge and skills. However, food security and safety have also played a role.
"Many gardeners have commented on the expense of fresh vegetables and appreciate being able to walk away from the Urban Farm with a bag full of tomatoes or kale," said Milligan. "People also want to be able to gather in a safe space, both safe from COVID, and also safe from racism. One gardener mentioned that seniors from their community don't always feel welcome when they visit public spaces."
Milligan is looking forward to what this season will bring. "This will be a year of much energy and change, and I am excited to see the results. I also hope that we start to be noticed as a model — there should be urban farms all over the city!"