'The land has been good to us': Edmonton man fights to protect his farm

Doug Visser is willing to forgo millions in development dollars to preserve his third-generation family farm.

Doug Visser is trying to preserve his northeast Edmonton farm for future generations

Doug Visser wants to ensure the Riverbend Gardens property, which has been in his family for four generations remains untouched by future development. (Riverbend Gardens)

Doug Visser is willing to forgo millions in development dollars to preserve his third-generation family farm.

The Edmonton man is taking the final steps to protect his 230-acre property, nestled on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, from encroaching suburban development.

"I don't want to sound odd or anything but the land has been really good to us. The land provides, and that has tremendous value," Visser said Tuesday in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"Millions of dollars has value too, I suppose, but it's not the same kind of value."

Visser plans to place an easement on the property and has launched a public fundraising campaign to help cover the legal costs. The easement would ensure the land, located on the easternmost edge of the city limits, would only ever be used for community-based agriculture.

The property, nestled in the heart of Horse Hill, is one of the last surviving urban farms in Edmonton. It's surrounded by residential development and is also in the path of a proposed new provincial highway.

A buyout could mean a small fortune for Visser's family, but as far as he's concerned, the land is priceless.

To preserve the land, he's partnered with the Edmonton and Area Land Trust, and offered to match up to $70,000 in donations to his campaign. The cost of creating a legal agreement, management plan and the associated research is expected to surpass $140,000.

'This land is special' 

Visser's parents first started farming the property in 1958, after emigrating from the Netherlands. Clarence and Jennie Visser raised hogs on the property for more than 20 years.

Today, 120 acres of the farm produces more than 20 different crops of fresh vegetables, which supply local farmers' markets and Riverbend Gardens, a business run by Visser's daughter, Janelle, and son-in-law, Aaron.

The original hog barns have been retrofitted as vegetable washing stations, but a pair of potbellied pigs still roam free among the fields.

Visser's granddaughter, Evie, is the first member of the fourth generation to live on the farm. She often helps her parents out around the property. (Riverbend Gardens)

What isn't used for the business is dedicated to Visser's community garden. His not-for-profit Lady Flower Gardens partners with local front-line agencies like the Mustard Seed, helping disadvantaged and homeless Edmontonians grow their own food.

The property also includes 75 acres of old rare growth forest, a thriving habitat for deer, moose and coyotes, which is currently used for traditional Indigenous ceremonies.

"Over the years, we have learned that this land is special ... and it has provided a wonderful living up to the third generation of our family," Visser said.

"Of course, the land has been here for a lot longer than our family, we are only here for a moment in time. Because of these unique characteristics, it's important to keep this land."

With files from Zoe Todd