Environment and the grace of a potato farmer

We rounded a gentle bend on the Manning Freeway and saw the line of cars stretching into the horizon. We were heading out to dig potatoes, a free offering by Gordon Visser—one farmer among many—deeply concerned about land-use surrounding the city of Edmonton. His idea? A big potato give-away.

Non-farmers don’t understand the importance of the productivity of this land and we want to get the message across. It is irreplaceable.

I had imagined a few dozen, perhaps a hundred like-minded urbanites enjoying sun and the soil while picking a few pounds of spuds. Sure, free is nice, but they’re just tubers—so no one was prepared for the response. Miles of cars, thousands of people, good-natured, waiting for hours, taters gone by early afternoon. We stopped, admired the scene, and left.


Back in June, alerted by farmers at our local Market Garden, we attended a city council meeting where the Greater Edmonton Alliance proposed amendments to the city’s development plan. They called on the councillors to consider the impact on local food production and think carefully before making decisions about converting farmland.

Alliance members told councillors the city has collected little information about the value of the remaining agricultural land, its food production value or how it could contribute to the local economy. The group says such information should be crucial in making land-use decisions.

You would think! There are models to follow where harmonization can occur between residential clusters and farm plots, allowing the city an adequate tax-base while supporting local food production.

It’s depressing enough (in a micro-climate that enjoys the most frost-free days in Alberta) seeing some of the best top-soil in the province stripped and pushed into piles exposing acres of hardpan for the planting of industry and conurbation. But to farm here, seeing this day after day, must make one heart-sick. Obviously it did for Visser. He gave away over 45,000 kg. of potatoes in an effort to draw back the curtain on the problem.  

Putting his murphies where his mouth is, Mr. Visser has done more for raising awareness of GEA’s concerns than years of lobbying could do. Now it’s up to us to make sure his grand and generous gesture takes root.

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