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Orchard and hens on the way - urban agriculture project approved

By: Matt Durnan

  |  Posted: Thursday, Jun 05, 2014 06:00 am

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Airdrie City council approved an 18--month urban agriculture pilot project during its regular meeting on June 2.

Included in the project, will be edible landscaping in the form of a community orchard and a backyard hens program that would allow residents to keep up to four hens for the purpose of harvesting their eggs.

The project will be taken on in a phased approach, with just the edible landscaping and backyard hens being introduced for now. Airdrie Sustainability Coordinator Amanda Ginn said that in two years staff will take a look at other forms of urban agriculture such as beekeeping and other community gardens.

A community orchard will be located at the north end of the baseball diamond at the Plainsmen Arena and will create an opportunity for the City and community to work together to create a unique green space and community food asset.

The orchard will feature as many as 13 different species of edible fruit, berries, nut trees and shrubs that will all be tested to see how they stand up to Airdrie’s climate.

“Our growing season here is kind of tough to get a handle on so that’s why we’re going to try a variety of different species,” Ginn said. “We’ll try a bunch of different ones and see what works best.”

Ginn said the Parks department already has funds allotted in its tree-planting budget for this orchard, which has an estimated immediate cost of $5,000 and the plan is to get it up and running as soon as this fall.

Maintenance of the orchard is anticipated as an ongoing cost that has not yet been determined, and it will require weeding by park’s staff at least four times during growing season.

A maximum of 10 residents will be allowed to participate in the backyard hens pilot that has been put in place to observe the impacts and benefits of allowing hens on urban residential properties for an 18-month period.

The rules associated with the hen project are more stringent than the community orchard, due to the impacts of having a live animal on the premises.

Participants must have a lot size that exceeds 400 square metres and be able to accommodate a minimum of two hens and a maximum of four.

“We set the minimum at two hens because they are social animals and they need companionship,” said Ginn.

Roosters will not be permitted in the project, and coops will only be allowed in fenced backyards, with the maximum henhouse size set at 50 sq. ft. and the height should not exceed the height of a backyard fence.

Support for this project was positive after the program was pitched at the Feb. 18 meeting of council. Staff received feedback from 148 residents during the Airdrie Home and Lifestyle Show with 85 per cent saying they would be in favour of edible landscaping.

Residents weren’t as supportive of the private/backyard initiatives with 57 per cent of respondents saying they’d support a backyard hen program and just 50 per cent saying they’d support backyard beekeeping.

Ginn outlined some possibilities for the future of urban agriculture in Airdrie that could include, “developing a rooftop garden at a future library building and partnering with the Airdrie Food Bank to supply them with edible plantings from public gardens.”

Council members were pleased with Ginn’s report and anxious to see what the project will look like once it gets underway.

“I’m really excited about this program and I think you did a great job addressing everything with the hens program,” said Alderman Candice Kolson, adding, “anyone who comes out to the farmer’s market can take a look at the proposed site for the community orchard while they’re there.”

Alderman Fred Burley was supportive and asked if Ginn has “had any issues finding participants for the hen program.”

Ginn said there are already six participants willing to take part and she expected more will come forward.

Council voted unanimously in favour of the scope of work for the pilot program.

For additional information on the pilot or to participate in the hen program, contact the Airdrie planning department at 403-948-8848.


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