Originally published February 1, 2019 on The Globe and Mail
By Justin Giovannetti
Alberta’s government is about to evict Canada’s largest community farm and the non-profit’s operator says the New Democrats have shown no interest in sparing the gardens, which supply Calgary’s shelters for women and the homeless with organic produce.
The farm, known as Grow Calgary, was started six years ago and now sprawls in the shadow of Canada Olympic Park in the city’s western end. Provincial officials have said that the farm, with its community plots, greenhouses and orchards, needs to be demolished because of the nearby construction of a new ring road. However, the farm’s operator says no highway is planned to go through the farm itself.
Paul Hughes, Grow Calgary’s founder, says the provincial government’s offer to move the farm has been halfhearted and incomplete. The province has declined to give the farm a list of possible sites where they could be moved, but has offered to cover $100,000 in moving costs.
Mr. Hughes has said Grow Calgary doesn’t want the money, but instead would like to keep the farm where it is. He’s asked to meet with officials to discuss how construction could proceed around the site, but he says those requests have been rejected. The farmers have been ordered off the land by Feb. 4.
“They seem hell-bent on getting rid of us,” Mr. Hughes told the Globe and Mail. He admits to being a vocal food activist in Calgary who has not helped his cause by publicly sparring with Premier Rachel Notley’s government.
“The thing that hurts is that we put in the effort to grow the soil, we invested in the soil to make it grow. They are going to bulldoze it. They don’t even need it for the road. We’ve kept asking them why they need to do this and they haven’t answered us,” he said.
Grow Calgary just isn’t in the right location, according to Alberta Transportation Minister Brian Mason. “We need the space for construction and it’s just not an appropriate place. We’ve offered them financial support to move their operation, but you know, they’re not co-operating,” he said.
The minister dismissed Mr. Hughes’s request for the farm to stay where it is. “He’s squatting on provincial land and I don’t think he’s in a position to make a whole bunch of extensive demands,” Mr. Mason told the Globe.
The farm has a lease with the government for 11 acres of land in the Transportation Utility Corridor around Calgary, a swath of provincially owned land designated for highway construction. Grow Calgary began operating in 2013 on scrubland on the edge of the corridor, which was designated as surplus to the demands of a future ring road, according to Mr. Hughes.
Construction of Calgary’s 101-km ring road is supposed to be completed by 2022. The new highway running near Grow Calgary will be one of the last sections completed in the decades-long project, with construction expected to start in the spring.