Like many in the Edmonton region, I find summer to be a special time because I can buy fresh fruits and vegetables at local farmers' markets. Over time I get to know some of the vendors and learn that the food I am buying is grown nearby by local farmers, some even within Edmonton's city limits.
Two weeks ago, I was part of a bus tour that visited some of the farms in northeast Edmonton. It was an interesting experience for a city guy like me to visit the farms where the fresh food I purchase in a downtown market is grown.
The local farm bus tour was organized by the Greater Edmonton Alliance (GEA). GEA has been working on the issue of local foods for over four years. GEA's initial focus was to get city council to see local food production and economic development rooted in local agriculture as a priority for Edmonton.
After two years of organizing and mobilizing hundreds of citizens to participate in public hearings at City Hall, in 2010 city council approved wording supporting local agriculture in the Municipal Development Plan.
This support was expressed in a vision statement: "Edmonton has a resilient local food and agriculture system that contributes to the local economy and the overall cultural, financial, social and environmental sustainability of the city."
To achieve this vision, city council launched a process last year to develop a food and agriculture strategy for the city of Edmonton. In taking this action, Edmonton has followed the lead of other Canadian cities, including Toronto and Vancouver.
GEA members have been active participants in the advisory committee, focus groups and online surveys contributing to the development of this food and agricultural strategy. It is expected that a proposal for an Edmonton food and agriculture strategy will be presented to city council in the next few months.
This is significant because the Municipal Development Plan now requires that any new area structure plans, which set out the parameters for new land developments in Edmonton, must take into account the food and agriculture strategy which includes consideration of the agricultural potential of lands being developed for commercial, industrial and residential use.
The first real test of this new planning approach will be the area structure plan for northeast Edmonton. This area contains some of the best agricultural soils in Alberta.
The future of the farms we visited during the GEA bus tour will be determined by this area structure plan. A stakeholder committee including local residents, land developers, business leaders and farmers has been working over the past few years to prepare this area structure plan. A representative from GEA has been part of this committee.
GEA has argued that the area structure plan must contain provisions that support continuing local food production on the best agricultural soils in northeast Edmonton. It is expected that a proposed area structure plan for northeast Edmonton will also go to city council this fall.
Several Catholic organizations, including the Catholic Archdiocese, parishes, religious orders and teachers in Edmonton Catholic schools, are active members of GEA.
GEA is engaged in a local foods campaign for important reasons: the ecological benefits of not transporting our food over long distances, local food security, stewardship of land, especially farmland, and support of a sustainable local economy. These goals resonate well with the values of a Catholic social teaching approach.
In Pope Benedict's encyclical Caritas in Veritate, food is not to be considered as simply one commodity among many. Rather food is said to be a universal human right (27).
Economic development should support the common good and seek to strengthen multiple "bottom lines" including shareholders, workers, local communities and ecological sustainability (40, 48). There should be an intergenerational justice perspective that includes an analysis of the share of benefits and burdens being passed on to future generations (50).
The hope of GEA is that over the next several months Edmonton will have in place a strong city-wide food and agricultural policy and that this policy will be honoured in an approved structure plan for northeast Edmonton.
GEA is actively mobilizing members of its more that 35-member institutions to express their support for these policies in upcoming hearings at City Hall. Hopefully, Catholics will be well represented.
(Bob McKeon: firstname.lastname@example.org)