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Edmonton Farmers Lose Fight Against Developers

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On Feb. 26, after a two-day public hearing, farmers and local food advocates lost their lengthy battle against urban development in northeast Edmonton’s Horse Hills region.

Janelle and Aaron Hebert with children Layne and Evie.

Four of the six major farming operations in the area are owned by families who attend local Christian Reformed churches.

Horse Hills, located along the North Saskatchewan River, is blessed with exceptional top soil and a unique microclimate with an average of 143 frost-free days, a bonus for this northern Alberta city.

The pro-farming faction petitioned for 600 hectares to be set aside for agriculture. However, the Edmonton city council’s decision will allow construction of neighborhoods that will house 70,000 people over the next 40 years, leaving only 200 hectares zoned as farm land.

At Riverbend Gardens, Janelle Hebert and her husband, Aaron, grow more than 20 different kinds of produce that is sold year-round at city markets. They are members of Fellowship CRC. Being surrounded by residential housing is only one concern. Another is a heavy-haul highway positioned to run directly through their farm.

The proposed highway is also a problem for First CRC members Gord and Annette Visser of Norbest Farms; it will separate their potato fields from their processing facility.

For Hebert, the foremost question is, “What does God want us to do with this land?”

God’s will is also at the heart of the matter for Harold Voogd, who, with his wife, Hetty, has been growing trees, shrubs, and perennials, at Sunstar Nurseries for 30 years.

“We believe,” says Voogd, “that stewardship of the resources we have been blessed with and put in charge of—in this case, the land and soil—is a biblical principle. It is a mandate for us to care for creation and to maintain the sustainability of the resource for generations to come.”

While the present is disappointing and the future is uncertain for the farmers in Horse Hills, they still have hope. As Voogd pointed out, “Some of these developments may take 10 to 30 years. . . . We at Sunstar, and most of the other farmers, intend to continue as we have, but know our farming days are probably numbered.”

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