Prairie Urban Farm: Building Better Food Systems in Alberta

Posted by Michelle Lam on August 24, 2022

Prairie Urban Farm was created as an engaged teaching and learning space in 2013, funded by a small grant through the University of Alberta’s Office of Sustainability. Prior to its formation, the primary focus at the University of Alberta’s teaching and research was on conventional agriculture, with not much room for alternative forms of production. “We’re interested in bringing members of the Edmonton region into a conversation about sustainable agriculture and food systems”, explains Debra Davidson, Director of Prairie Urban Farm.

Debra Davidson of Prairie Urban Farm

Debra is also a professor in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Alberta and volunteers their time to the farm. Although the farm is a 1.5 acre, mixed crop, community food system located on the University of Alberta’s South Campus, it is a separate entity from the University itself.

“Our first goal is community.”

“Our first goal is community”, says Debra, with the hope for Edmontonians to build a more intimate relationship with their food. They do this by providing skill-building opportunities in alternative and regenerative methods of growing food in an urban setting while building food security. 

The main principle of the Prairie Urban Farm is simple: to give more to the community than it takes. Behind the scenes, includes a large volunteer mix of faculty, students, and the public. They also have support from a board of advisors and a core group of 10-15 mentors. 

“We made a really explicit effort to try to bring in a diversity of different groups”, explains Debra. They do this by building relationships with community organizations such as the Multicultural Health Brokers and Adaptabilities. In addition, they also have many volunteers from the University of Alberta student body, which includes a large number of international students. “I think that opens doors amongst other ethnic communities”, says Debra. 

“We want to be able to constantly experiment and try new methods, and also to make the people feel like they’re contributing — to let them kind of play with their ideas”. 

Some examples of this include experiments with core gardening, a plot dedicated to growing sage, cedar, and tobacco (looked after by an Indigenous elder), and pruning different rows of tomatoes completely differently. They centre around skill-building opportunities for their volunteers, sharing a space for everyone to focus their learning on whatever it is they are interested in — whether that be power tools, building garden beds, growing flowers, etc.  “If you have an idea, let’s talk about it and let’s see what we can do”, Debra says, explaining their mentality at the farm. 

“It’s often…what we do —  those of us amongst privilege groups — is we set the rules, we set the table, we prepare the food, and then we invite people to come.”

“It’s often…what we do —  those of us amongst privilege groups — is we set the rules, we set the table, we prepare the food, and then we invite people to come. That means that the setting of the table, the food that’s offered….is only coming from my culture and I’m already dictating what the rules are, and what the norms are. I think far too many well-meaning efforts have kind of followed that approach. It’s really I think a matter of those of us in positions of privilege letting go control and you know and bringing others in to help shape it.” – Debra Davidson, Prairie Urban Farm.

With over 10% of Alberta who are food insecure (Alberta Health Services. 2017. Household food insecurity in Alberta: A backgrounder), Prairie Urban Farm is making steps in helping close that gap. Volunteers contribute their time as they can — for some that’s twice a year and for others, that’s upwards of 20 hours per week. Debra explains, “ we don’t wanna ask too much or more than what people can give”. 

In the future, Debra hopes to build a food forest, bringing permaculture into the farm in a more meaningful way. They’re also hoping to add on more learning and workshop activities to build more outreach with the community. There’s also talks about experimenting with heritage grains, something that isn’t so common in Alberta agriculture. Regardless of what’s next, one thing is certain — Prairie Urban Farm is helping people build better relations with food systems in Alberta.

To learn more about Prairie Urban Farm or get involved, visit:

Want to learn more about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Food Growing and Farming? Check out YA’s blog post here!

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