Grow Calgary ordered to uproot farm for west ring road construction

The city’s northwest urban farm is being asked to uproot crops and move before the end of 2018.

Province has told the not-for-profit group it needs to move by the end of 2018

Paul Hughes says Grow Calgary doesn't believe a move is necessary for the province to complete construction of the west ring road project. (Helen Pike/CBC)

UPDATE added on Feb. 14, 2019: In early February, Grow Calgary said it has an agreement in principle with the province for a new patch of land for its urban farm.

The city's northwest urban farm is being asked to uproot crops and move before the end of 2018 to make way for Calgary's ring road.

Grow Calgary has been tending its oasis by the Trans-Canada Highway for six growing seasons. Executive director Paul Hughes says barren land has been cultivated into a fruitful, not-for-profit endeavour to bring fresh produce to those in need.

But all that back-breaking work has to give way for the final leg of Calgary's ring road — a massive, $1-billion infrastructure project the province hopes to begin constructing in 2019.

The new road will feature nine kilometres of freeway on the west side of Calgary. The entire ring road is expected to be complete by 2022.

But according to the province, the little farm is in the way.

Grow Calgary has been on the transportation utility corridor close to Canada Olympic Park since 2013. Over the years, the not-for-profit farm has donated fresh produce grown on the underutilized land to more than 40 food access agencies across the city.

'There is a positive aspect'

Needless to say, Hughes isn't excited about the move. But when CBC News spoke to the organization on Thursday, he was looking for a silver lining.

"There is the positive aspect that we could find a place that could be even better for us," he said.

The province said about half of the 4.5-hectare farm is on land it now needs for the west ring road construction.

"Alberta Infrastructure appreciates Grow Calgary's urban farming activities and is working to identify a new location and support the moving of their operation," read the statement.

The west ring road will link Stoney Trail with Tsuut’ina Trail and complete the ring road network around Calgary. (Alberta Transportation)

But Hughes said some research by the group's transition committee shows a move isn't necessary.

"We're nowhere near the ring road as far as impeding any progress in the development," said Hughes. "They could build the ring road without us having to move and we would not slow down production or construction at all."

Despite his trepidations about the move, Hughes said the organization and government have a good working relationship and Grow Calgary is co-operating with them.

Government to help move

He added the government has said it wants to help the group move the valuable, nutrient-rich soil that it's spent six years building up.

"We're an organization that is massively undercapitalized. We do not have a lot of money, but we've got a lot of heart and we're very, very innovative and creative," said Hughes.

"This sets us back in the sense that we're going to have to rebuild again."

Grow Calgary donates food to several local groups with the help of thousands of volunteers every year. (Helen Pike/ CBC)

The government still hasn't found a new space for the farmers to sow new crops, and Hughes said the timelines to start working on a new plot are limited.

"In about a month we will be planting our cover crops for next year," he said. "We would like to get onto our new space, if we're going there, and prepare it for the growing season."

Hughes said Grow Calgary projects the moving budget at approximately $50,000.

"We're at a crossroads, pardon the pun," he said, "We've got to make a decision about where we're going to be moving and whether or not we're going to engage with the government to reconsider their decision."


Helen Pike


Helen Pike is CBC Calgary's mountain bureau reporter, based in Canmore. Her reporting focus is on stories about life, wildlife and climate in the Rockies. She joined CBC Calgary as a multimedia reporter in 2018 after spending four years working as a print journalist with a focus on municipal issues. You can find her on Twitter @helenipike.