Recap: Farming in the City Guided Bus Tours

On August 26, 2012, Mack and I took part in the Greater Edmonton Alliance’s Farming in the City guided bus tours. Organized to increase awareness about the pristine farmland we currently have in Edmonton, in an effort to ensure it remains farmland as City Council considers the Food and Agriculture Strategy on October 26. Though it wasn’t our first time in the area (we took part in the Great Potato Giveaway and have been to Riverbend Gardens in the past), it was a different experience to visit the farmland as a part of a collective group. Tickets were just $10, quite a steal considering the day they planned for us.

We took the LRT to Northlands, a partner for the tours. For an event about promoting sustainability, it was odd that the organizers only had signs directing those who drove to the pick-up site, and not for those who took public transit. We couldn’t see the buses from the mouth of the LRT station, so did a fair bit of wandering around the massive Northlands parking lot before we came upon the site.

Farming in the City

Our ride

Anyway, we were happy to discover the first bus of the day was full (8:30am on a Sunday morning wouldn’t have been our first choice, but with Blink: Urban Picnic to follow, it was our only option). It also turned out the rest of the buses were equally well subscribed, to the point where the organizers were turning people away! In total, around 400 people took part in the 10 bus tours throughout the day, quite a feat considering the number of competing summer festivals going on.

It was also a particularly impressive volunteer effort, with enthusiastic, dedicated members of our community lending their time to this cause. Our tour guide, for example, is a student attending the University of Alberta.

Farming in the City

Volunteers like Joveena helped run the event!

The bus took us through five different farms in Edmonton’s north east, though we only stopped to visit three of them. The first of these stops was Horse Hill Berry Farm.

I never knew this little gem of a u-pick farm existed! David and Jackie Clark grow half a dozen varieties of raspberries on ten acres, and are open from late July to late August every year.

Farming in the City

Jackie Clark of Horse Hill Berry Farm

We were actually there on their last weekend of operation, but could still spot many juicy berries between the brambles ripe for the picking. Jackie encouraged us to not only wander the neat rows of raspberry plants, but to help ourselves to the fruit!

Farming in the City

Neat rows of raspberries

Farming in the City


Our second stop was Norbest Farm, a potato farm. Owner Gord Visser was on hand to greet all of us as we departed the bus, and had a surprise for the group – fresh hand cut fries made from his potatoes!

Farming in the City

Another batch for the fryer

Farming in the City

Mack loves his potatoes

We were also able to each take home a bag of potatoes, so we could further taste the kind of produce the land supports.

Farming in the City


Last but not least, our final bus departure took place at Riverbend Gardens. We were given an hour at this lush farm, which seemed to give everyone a leisurely opportunity to explore a part of the fields, take in the gorgeous views and enjoy the free corn that was being handed out!

Farming in the City

Riverbend Gardens is located right next to the North Saskatchewan River

Farming in the City

Will stop for corn

Farming in the City

Janelle chats with Global about her farm

Farming in the City


Farming in the City

Among the cabbage

Riverbend Gardens has 120 acres of farmable land, and currently sell their produce at 7 farmers’ markets in Edmonton. But special for that day, owners Janelle and Aaron Herbert set up a produce stand right at the farm, so attendees could not only see the variety of vegetables grown, but to also purchase some to try for themselves!

Farming in the City

Produce stand

Farming in the City

Freshly picked veg

It was a great way to spend three hours on a summer morning – getting to know our farmland, our farmers, and some other Edmontonians who are committed to preserving our city’s food future. Thanks to the Greater Edmonton Alliance for putting this event on, and to all of the volunteers for making it happen!

You can take a look at the full photoset here. If you want to get involved, take a look at Friends of Farmers.

The Great Potato Giveaway: Recap

The event I was most looking forward to this month was undoubtedly the Great Potato Giveaway, put on by the Greater Edmonton Alliance (GEA). In order to spread awareness about the potential development of fertile farmland in the city’s north east, the GEA partnered with the Edmonton Potato Growers and Norbest Farms, and advertised an event which would allow attendees 50 pounds of free potatoes per person. Not ever being one to pass up an opportunity for free food (or visiting a farm), Mack, Jane, Yi-Li, Annie and I piled into a car just after 8am this morning and headed to what we thought would be the city’s hottest destination that day.

Given the amount of media coverage the event received, the number of vehicles we encountered wasn’t surprising, but what was surprising was how unprepared the event organizers were in dealing with such a large bottleneck so early on in the day. Crawling up 195 Street, with hundreds of cars in front and behind us, there was no indication when we might actually reach the farm. We saw a number of cars turn back due to the wait, and a number of vehicle passengers deciding to hoof it (the joke on Twitter this morning was that it was the “Great Potato Give-a-Wait”).

About an hour out

Two hours later, by around 11, we finally reached Norbest Farms. Volunteers handed us each a reusable cloth bag for our potatoes as we drove in, as well as a flyer from the GEA detailing the upcoming public hearing on the Municipal Development Plan taking place on November 12, 2009. Getting out of the car, we could already see the masses of people lined up along the crop – families, older couples, and everyone in between.

Crowd at Great Potato Giveaway

Ready to harvest!

Everyone was told to wait as the tractor and potato harvester drove over the soil, overturning the crop underneath. It was quite the sight to see – as soon as the harvester drove past, there was a mad scramble of people doing their best to scrounge up as many potatoes as possible. Of course, we were right in there like everyone else.

Waiting for the tractor to pass

Here come the potatoes!

Gloves would have been great to have on hand, as the harvester didn’t turn the soil very deep, and we, like many others, resorted to overturning the soil by hand to uncover some of the smaller potatoes.

Attack of the potato harvesters!

Found one!

It was a beautiful day – sunny and warm, but not too hot. I was really happy to see the children there digging in the soil, triumphant when they found a “baby ‘tater”. Although one GEA volunteer passed by as we were harvesting and reminded participants about the reason for the event, I think many likely considered it a free potato grab and nothing more – the GEA definitely should have had more people out spreading their message to the attendees.

After three passes of the machine, we were satisfied that we harvested our share. We’re not sure each of us had 50 pounds, but there was probably a good 30 pounds packed in per bag.

Mack with our harvest

Trunk full of potatoes

We wandered down to the information tents before heading back, where Mack and I signed up to receive more updates from GEA. We asked the volunteers at the tents whether or not they had expected such a turnout, and they replied that while they had only anticipated a “good crowd”.

GEA tent

The ubiquitous Fat Franks cart (they’re everywhere!)

As we drove out of the farm, we passed hundreds of cars still waiting to get in, backed up all the way to Manning Drive. We found out later that the farm had run out of potatoes at around 12:30pm.

Thanks to Norbest Farms, the Edmonton Potato Growers and the Greater Edmonton Alliance, we all have potatoes that we will be sharing with family and friends. And of course, thanks for the opportunity to harvest a crop from some of the rich farmland surrounding our city.

You can see Mack’s photoset here.