Urban farm in the middle of Calgary industrial area celebrates milestone

Instead of a red ribbon cutting, Highfield Farm celebrated the opening of its greenhouse by cutting a garland crafted from greenery and weeds. 

Thanks to a $227,000 grant from the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Local Food Infrastructure Fund (LFIF), this farm can extend its growing season and begin its bigger mission: building community. 

The project is a partnership between the farmers, the City of Calgary and the Compost Council of Canada. 

“For us, the ability to grow year-round, extend our outdoor season, and have a safe indoor space for us to gather as a community and for education is absolutely invaluable,” said farm operations manager Heather Ramshaw.

Highfield Farm operations manager Heather Ramshaw said opening the greenhouse is an important step in their mission. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Highfield Farm took over more than 15 acres of land in one of Calgary’s industrial areas back in 2019. The land is nestled between 11 Street S.E. and the Deerfoot right-of-way. Years ago, Ramshaw said it was used as a farmer’s market, but sat vacant.

“The weeds took over,” she said, laughing. 

The first task was regenerating the land — ensuring the soil could be productive and healthy after years of invasive overgrowth and illegal dumping. Then, last year Ramshaw said they got productive, planting seeds, growing and harvesting 2,000 pounds of food. 

“It’s really quite a remarkable thing knowing that a Calgary Food Bank will receive produce from this marvellous building that other organizations will as well,” said Compost Council of Canada Executive Director Susan Antler.

Half of the greenhouse will serve as a community space, and the remainder will be turned into a year-round growing site. The team at Highfield is dreaming up different ways to grow. 

“We’ll have some permanent beds along the edges, some movable beds,” Ramshaw said. “We’d like to see some aquaponics in here, maybe some hydroponics, maybe some aeroponics.”

Once the beds are built Ramshaw hopes to raise the farm’s growth potential to 6,000 pounds this season and to grow more than 10,000 pounds of produce next season. 

When Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra was first elected in 2010, he and other council members worked on the Calgary Eats! Action Plan, approving the document in 2012. 

The food action plan aimed to make healthy food accessible to all. Much of the plan played out by reducing red tape, and in this case connecting underutilized land to the people who could make it thrive.

Carra said these are the types of projects he envisioned at that time. 

But much of the ideas planted a decade later are still slow to grow, he said. 

“Nothing moves fast enough, right?” Carra said.

“I wish we could snap our fingers and some of the empty office towers downtown were vertical farms … It’ll happen, I just wish it happened faster. But, you know, right now it’s exciting to see these green shoots emerging.”

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