Farms or Freeways? Citizen Engagement and Municipal Governance in Edmonton’s Food and Agriculture Strategy Development

Article by Mary A. Beckie, Lorelei L. Hanson & Deborah Schrader, Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development - 2013

In the mid- to late 1990s, most provincial governments in Canada downloaded or devolved authority for land use planning to local levels of government. In Alberta, this shifted responsibility for the protection of farmland to municipalities. However, a strong oil and gas economy and rapid growth of Alberta's urban centers in recent decades has resulted in significant loss of prime farmland to urban and industrial development. In Edmonton, Alberta's capital city, citizens' concerns over food security and the protection of farmland within city boundaries shaped the 2010 municipal development plan, which links land use planning with food and agriculture, and also paved the way for an Edmonton agri-food strategy. In this exploratory case study we examine factors shaping Edmonton's food policy development and implementation, and the impact on prime farmland in the city's outer limits. Despite progressive changes in policy due to strong citizen support, municipal council's approval of a food and agriculture strategy lacking hard targets subsequently set the stage for continued urban sprawl and loss of prime farmland. This study illuminates the conflicts between citizens' demand for sustainable urban food systems and the development narrative still prevalent in many North American cities. We conclude the paper by discussing the key levers required to ensure the transformational context required to institute holistic food system strategies.