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Sturgeon County producer worried rule changes will hurt family farm

Click to play video: 'Farmers concerned about proposed changes in Sturgeon County' Farmers concerned about proposed changes in Sturgeon County
WATCH ABOVE: Some planners with Sturgeon County are proposing changes that have a number of area farmers concerned about the future of the family farm. Vinesh Pratap explains why – Feb 27, 2017

Just north of Edmonton, Prairie Gardens and Adventure Farm is a big draw for many.

“I’ve been here for 33 years as a farmer and slowly, over time, the farm has evolved into agri-tourism,” explains Tam Andersen with Prairie Gardens.

From its corn maze to long table farm dinners, Andersen has taken steps to diversify as a way to keep her small operation viable.

“If I can take that pail of potatoes and sell it as a farm dinner, now that’s gone from a $5 pail of potatoes to $125 plate of food,” says Andersen.

Andersen is concerned about proposed changes being put forward by Sturgeon County planners that would reclassify her farm as agri-business.

Under that reclassification, there would be new rules limiting hours for things like market gardens and greenhouses.

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At Prairie Gardens, the traditional hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The county is proposing weekday hours of  8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and weekend and holiday hours of 8 a.m to 8 p.m.

“It takes away our profitability by restricting our evening activity,” says Andersen.

The changes have been in the works for a while, as county planners look to update rules that are a generation old.

“One of the things I think it’s important to note is the agri-business hours of operation impact the commercial/retail site visit of the farm,” says Clayton Kittlitz of Sturgeon County.

“The traditional farming operations– cultivating, watering, feeding cows– whatever that may be are not regulated.”

Along with business hours, the proposed changes also address issues like lighting and how people get to and from an agri-business.

“Given there is a more intensive land use… the idea behind agri-business is to add some regulations that could mitigate some of those impacts to adjacent landowners,” explains Kittlitz. “We’re trying to find that balance between the two.”

While the regulations have been written, there is still time for public feedback. That could result in changes.

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A public hearing is planned for Tuesday evening at the Sturgeon County offices in Morinville. Feedback will be collected over a month with the county council expected to vote on the proposed changes in late April.

“This is very troubling for us,” says Andersen.

At Prairie Gardens, Andersen hopes the county’s elected officials hear her concerns. The long-time farmer says, “It’s absolutely vital, especially for smaller holdings, to be able to have diversification on the farm.”

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