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Urban Farm Expansion Provides a Growth of Opportunity for Community Gardeners

Edmonton’s bountiful Urban Farm, nestled on a plot of land in the heart of the city, is the site of an exciting new expansion set to benefit newcomers, youth, and passionate gardeners of all ages interested in growing and cultivating food.

Currently the one-acre facility is a hub of food production, public learning, and innovation space for communities to discover and practice urban agriculture. The Urban Farm focuses on food systems, biodiversity, sustainability, and developing strong local connections.

Launched in 2014 near Northlands and west of Borden Park, it is a beautiful facility filled with rows of sunny flowers, buzzing bees, budding plants, and colourful vegetables.  The Urban Farm is traditionally active from the May long weekend through Thanksgiving.  It is busy with families and community groups gardening, school children on field trips, horticultural workshops, and Open Farm Days activities.

The Urban Farm grew in size and popularity over the years, with thousands of people annually flocking to the farm.  Soon, the popular garden area reached full capacity for growing space.  When the idea for expansion was explored, Communities United came on board and became involved in the funding of the new development.  With much planning and organizing taking place, the Urban Farm is thrilled to announce that this past spring a new northern plot opened that is blossoming with potential.

“I’m really excited, because anything that brings the community together, I think is valuable,” says Jessie Radies, Director at Explore Edmonton, who was involved with the redevelopment plans.

Explore Edmonton recently took over operations of Northlands, which had strong historical roots in the city’s agricultural community.  “This past year with COVID, we’ve seen there was much greater awareness about food insecurity in Edmonton as a lot of people lost their jobs because of COVID,” explains Jessie. “All of a sudden there was some urgency around food insecurity. At the Urban Farm, we have a good relationship with a number of nonprofit groups in the city like Communities United, that work with newcomers and we really wanted to figure out how we could support them in getting access to land and learning how to grow or bring their agricultural traditions to Canada, says Jessie.”

Some hard-working newcomers that directly benefited from the new plot of land are a group of South Sudanese women including Kiki Maragang. 

They planted onions, tomatoes, and black-eyed beans they brought from Sudan. The women meet regularly to water their vegetables.   “It is very nice,” says Kiki, “but it’s a little different to prepare the garden. Back home, the ground is very rich with soil with everything and it would rain.  I learned here you don’t just throw the seeds on the ground and let them grow,” she says with a smile.  “You have to fertilize and water, and then it is good.”

Educational gardening experiences like this are made possible through Explore Edmonton, which covers major costs of supplying and managing the land at the Urban Farm, and employing workers on site. Other valuable organizations took part in the expansion, including the Butler Family Foundation that generously donated $15,000.

“There are just so many positive layers of benefit to this project, so I was grateful that Communities United included me and invited me to be a part of it,” says Shannon Butler, Executive Coordinator of the Butler Family Foundation.

Important funding partners including Shannon were recently offered a tour of Urban Farm expansion to see firsthand the beauty and benefits.

“What I really like about this is the location, and that kids around these neighbourhoods are being given an opportunity to see how food is grown. I imagine that there are a number of people who don’t have the benefit of a yard or garden and just to be able to get your hands in the dirt and watch something grow from nothing is just amazing.”

Patty Milligan, Agriculture Education Specialist with Explore Edmonton mentors gardeners at the Urban Farm who have migrated from all around the world including Eastern Europe, Russia, Romania and the Ivory Coast.  She teaches them things like how to garden in a short growing season; what to plant and how to prepare the soil and deal with frost.  She enjoys working through language barriers and learning about food from different cultures.  

“I love it, I am so happy to connect with people about food and farming. What I find is that it often provokes stories on both sides.  The established farmers already here, and the new farmers come together.  It’s like food connects you to your childhood.  So you’re learning about what people ate growing up and about different food traditions.”

Kiki agrees.  ‘It’s a very good activity to do.  We bring stories from Sudan and talk about what happened with us gardening with our moms back home.  They are very good memories to share with others and pass along to our children here.”

Gardeners like Kiki can look forward to growing for many years to come. The north side addition has doubled the Urban Farm in size and will take a few seasons to fully develop.  The plots are on valuable city owned land, which has been secured for their use for the next 10 years. 

“Eventually we would love to have an outdoor classroom here and to be able to invest in a greenhouse,” says Jessie.“ Long term, I’d love to see a kitchen and some other assets so that we could take that primary agriculture product and do something with it and teach food and literacy skills.”

For now, the unique programming and prime location keeps the Urban Farm rooted in success.

“When we first started looking at this site it was not delivering any value to the community.  And now we have people that come to the urban farm that learn about pollination, they learn about chickens, they learn about composting and agriculture. Some of our most frequent visitors are from low income areas.So it really gives those people an opportunity to really have a great educational experience immersed in nature.  It’s hard to believe that you’re in the middle of the city when you are here.”

To find out how to get involved in the Urban Farm project please contact: Matthew Taylor at Communities United, mtaylor@myunitedway.ca

For more info on the Urban Farm visit: www.northlands.com/agriculture/northlands-urban-farm/

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