Across Canada in a farmhouse: Edmonton to New Norway

The Edmonton area provided more content than we had originally bargained for. Toward the end of our previous entry, we referred to land-use battles between citizen groups and the municipality. Well, after some digging around we soon found folks willing to tell us (albeit not on camera) some startling personal stories about ongoing battles for land.

One farmer, who has lived and farmed southwest of Edmonton (within the municipality) all his approximately 65 years, was shocked to receive notice this year that his farmland had been reassessed — he’d be paying twice what he had been paying!

Thankfully this individual and his wife were on the ball. Knowing that farmland is zoned as farmland for a reason, this fella contacted the city, whereupon he was told that recent commercial development in the southwest of Edmonton necessitated a reassessment. Again, farmland is zoned as farmland to prevent precisely this kind of problem… at least in theory.

The farmer called a friend (who works as a tax assessor) in another county to seek input. The long and short of it is this: city officials are trying to establish a precedent. All it’ll take is one farmer to pay the reassessed tax level and there’s a notch in the city’s legal belt.

There’s so much more of this issue to explore in the Edmonton area. For instance, plans to twin Highway 19 south of the city, while important for moving energy-related goods and services, are threatening farmland in a major way. As one major organic vendor at the Strathcona Farmers’ Market told us, his land is destined for development when the highway project goes ahead.

And this is Class 1 soil we’re talking. This battle is worth following for a few important reasons. First, loss of Class 1 land is always distressing; second, it will be fascinating to see how Premier Redford handles the always-complex issue of surface rights in Alberta. Will her government represent a change of policy/approach from the Klein era?

Finally, reluctantly, we headed south out of Edmonton en route to Calgary. Thanks to a late start we only reached as far south as Beaumont. Lying just east of the Edmonton International Airport, Beaumont used to be a pretty sleepy little bedroom community — at least it was the last time I passed through, roughly 12 years ago.

These days, however, Beaumont seems to be booming. The stock of new housing is truly significant, and there’s road construction everywhere — not just road resurfacing, but sewer and water lines being upgraded.

Further south still, there’s a slightly worrying problem emerging in canola fields. We’ve seen (and heard about) a fair increase in aerial spraying recently, which means the crop must be showing signs of disease, most likely sclerotinia, a relatively common form of stem rot. This is my guess for now, but I’ll ask around and give an update in our next dispatch.

Finally, as we wound our way south, backtracking a bit through the Camrose area, we suddenly had not only one flat tire, but two! Actually, we had a rim come free entirely, followed by a sudden flat thanks to the rapid weight transfer — two flats on the same side at the same time.

Sadly, this little mishap got in the way of a planned interview in Stettler. Now we’ll have to pick up the pace and try to shoehorn in some interviews over the next two days as we roll toward Calgary.

— John Varty and his fiancee Molly Daley are driving across Canada in an effort to speak to farmers about the issues that concern them, and to bring those concerns to urbanites. They’re doing it in an unusual fashion — towing a "farmhouse" behind a Massey Ferguson 1660 — and will post periodic reports here of their trek across the Prairies.

Related stories:
Across Canada in a farmhouse: Camrose to Edmonton, Aug. 9, 2012
Cross-Canada tractor pull, July 26, 2012

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