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Prairie Gardens outside Edmonton to ‘cease events and certain operations’

Click to play video: 'Prairie Gardens Adventure Farm forced to close' Prairie Gardens Adventure Farm forced to close
Rules being enforced by Sturgeon County mean it's unsustainable for Prairie Gardens Adventure Farm just outside Edmonton to remain open. Sarah Ryan has more. – Aug 25, 2022

A popular U-Pick farm and attraction has been reminded of a Stop Order by Sturgeon County and is being told to cease certain operations.

“It’s heartbreaking for us,” said Tam Andersen, a farmer and owner of Prairie Gardens Adventure Farm. “It’s been my whole life on this farm. We don’t understand.”

She said the farm has been working with the county to address some traffic concerns, specifically people crossing the highway to access both farms, but said the decision took her by surprise.

“We’ve had to close Prairie Gardens and we have done so because we want to keep people safe, and Sturgeon County has issued us a notice to say we’re no longer allowed to have any agritourism activities on our farm and we’re also not allowed to have any gatherings of people of more than 100 per day.”

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Prairie Gardens and Adventure Farm has U-Pick produce and family activities including corn mazes, a petting farm, nature trails and a pumpkin patch.

It’s located in Bon Accord, Alta., about 25 kilometres north of Edmonton.

Prairie Gardens
Prairie Gardens and Adventure Farm in Bon Accord, Alta., on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022. Global News

“We’re farmers and so we grow crops, and we’re still allowed to do that,” Andersen said. “However, we grow a U-pick farm and we have U-pick pumpkins and U-pick potatoes and U-pick vegetables of all sorts, U-pick apple season is right around the corner.

“With us not being allowed to have a U-pick — because they also cancelled all our permits that we were working on trying to get for them as part of all of this — we are not able to offer our U-pick, our greenhouse operations, our tree nursery operations, or any agritourism component of what we do here on the farm.

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“It’s our livelihood. And so we’ll be without our livelihood. We’ll be unemployed as will our 25 staff that work with us.”

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In 2017, Prairie Gardens voiced concerns with proposed changes by Sturgeon County to reclassify the farm as an agri-business. That new classification came with new rules limiting hours, capacity and events.

Andersen said they’d been working with the county on the land-use and agritourism definition and that a bylaw already passed first reading.

“Agritoruism currently is not a land-use definition in Sturgeon County and so this project was to bring it into the bylaw definition so that agritourism could be a permitted land use as it is in B.C. and Ontario.”

She said Prairie Gardens was planning to apply for an agritourism permit as soon as they were available.

“It’s devastating. We worked really hard on that project. We work really hard on our farm,” Andersen said through tears. “It’s gut-wrenching.”

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A spokesperson for the county said Thursday it has received “multiple complaints” about noise, trespassing, traffic issues, permit compliance and other issues.

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Jackie Sargent said Prairie Gardens was also non-compliant with municipal and provincial permit regulations.

In a statement, Sturgeon County said a Stop Order issued Oct. 15, 2021 to Prairie Gardens Adventure Farm is still “in full force and effect due to non-compliance with a forbearance agreement” between the county and farm. The county served notice of that on Aug. 17 and said the business will “cease events and certain operations until further notice.”

“Prairie Gardens is no longer able to continue intensive agricultural operations, including greenhouse, U-Pick, market gardens, as well as agritourism operations including corn maze, hayrides, and other small-scale events, until further notice,” the county said.

“The notice was given due to ongoing and significant public safety concerns and the failure to comply with submission deadlines, occupancy limits during defined hours, and requirements to confirm parking, traffic, and access improvements.”

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It outlines that the restrictions to Prairie Gardens include a maximum of 100 visitors per day, limiting operating hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., having all activities on site (including parking), no pedestrian activity on roadways surrounding the site, and no events (including weddings, retreats, parties, markets or farm-to-table dinners).

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“The Stop Order does not impact Prairie Gardens’ ability to continue with the raising and cultivation of crops and livestock, as this is both permitted and unrelated to the above limitations,” the county added.

Sargent said Intensive Agricultural Operations (greenhouse, market garden, U-pick) can resume when a traffic, parking, and access plan is approved.

“Prairie Gardens can continue with small-scale consumer visitations and product sales, provided they occur on their property and are within the 100-person limit per day.”

Prairie Gardens
Prairie Gardens and Adventure Farm in Bon Accord, Alta., on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022. Global News

After the Oct. 15, 2021 stop order, Prairie Gardens filed an appeal. In the meantime, the two parties agreed the farm could continue operating but under certain timelines and conditions. The appeal was heard, and the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board issued a decision that “essentially upheld the stop order.”

According to the county, the landowner needs to apply for appropriate approvals for the activities taking place on site, apply for appropriate rezoning for the property and obtain appropriate permits by Oct. 22, 2022.

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Sargent explained the county recently witnessed more traffic safety issues and “evidence that the occupancy limits agreed to in the forbearance agreement were exceeded.” That’s when the notice of “more stringent conditions” was issued.

In its statement, Sturgeon County said it recognizes how popular the farm is and that it didn’t make the decision to enforce the Stop Order lightly.

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“We’ve tried our best to meet with all Sturgeon County’s requirements,” Andersen said. “We were working with them trying to move forward on this, and make sure all their demands were met, and certainly, we’re very conscious that we want people to be safe on our site.

“Really, I think it was people walking between our two farms… We actually did have a parking person telling people they should not be walking between sites… but it’s hard to catch everybody.”

Andersen said they even hired a consultant to work on the parking issue and traffic safety. They submitted plans to the county in June and last heard from the county Aug. 18.

“We’re happy to be as collaborative as we possibly could,” she said.

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