County refuses purchase of Mennonite Heritage Farm

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The county will not acquire new cultural property.

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The municipality had a few months to consider whether or not they wanted to take ownership of the Mennonite Heritage Farm located at the corner of Township Road 520 and Range Road 231, but after considering the feasibility, costs and other implications of buying farm, Strathcona County Council accepted the administration’s recommendation at its Tuesday, June 28, meeting not to purchase the farm.

For the past 43 years, the site has preserved and promoted Mennonite and agrarian culture and traditions. It offers visitors an interactive experience of understanding where food comes from, the site includes flower gardens, a berry orchard, rental garden plots and farm gardens. In addition to summer and winter tours, the farm offers car shows, antique tractor shows, picnics, a petting zoo, indoor and outdoor concerts, and Saturday produce markets. Although there is no admission fee, it costs $20 per year for a membership, which is required to have a garden plot there. As of November 2021, the site has 90 members.

While the property has achieved certain goals set out in the county’s Municipal Development Plan for Agrarian Experiences (providing the opportunity to help residents celebrate arts, culture and heritage and recognize the area’s unique history ) and tourism strategy (providing visitors with authentic agritourism activities, immersive cultural experiences and engaging festivals), Recreation, Parks and Culture (RPC) told the board that the asset would also duplicate cultural programming to showcase the rural history and heritage that can be offered at Bremner House.

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In addition to arts, crafts and heritage programming, Bremner’s comprehensive site masterplan promises to offer workshops, exhibits and machinery storage, exhibition space, community gardens and pick-ups, farmers markets and/or flea markets and food service.

“The Bremner site is intended to be a rural community hub that offers authentic, dynamic and interactive experiences. It will be a place for storytelling, events, gatherings, interpretation and education,” the RPC told the council.

Mennonite Heritage Farm located at the corner of Township Road 520 and Range Road 231. Photo provided
Mennonite Heritage Farm located at the corner of Township Road 520 and Range Road 231. Photo provided

The shock of the stickers also probably sunk the case.

Operating costs and permanent and seasonal staffing requirements have been estimated to cost the county between $300,000 and $500,000 per year. Employees alone accounted for $200,000 to $350,000. Additionally, the county would be responsible for maintaining and upgrading life-cycle equipment and machinery, updating or replacing existing facilities to meet current building codes, and increasing the ‘accessibility. RPC said road access and car parks would also need improvement.

“Given the overall size of the parcel, buildings on site, serviceability limitations, there are no other county amenities in the area, the fact that the heritage aspect is not tied to any building in particular, from a purely land and acquisition perspective, it does not meet the criteria of the municipal land framework,” Cultural Services Manager Dianne Yanch told council.

No board member attempted to alter the administration’s recommendation.

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Ward County 6. Corey-Ann Hartwick, who represents the neighborhood this farm is in, asked if residents would still have options for gardening or berry picking. RPC Director Suzanne Lobb confirmed that people can still access the community garden program across the municipality, that more experiences can be gathered using the local edible garden map, and that the county will offer the future of programs in the Bremner site orchard.

Mayor Rod Frank thanked farm owners Ernest and Linda Wiens for the offer.

“Unfortunately, this does not fit our land framework or our future plans, but it was a project worth considering,” the mayor noted.

The future of the site is now uncertain, as the Alberta Mennonite Heritage Cultural Society, which is the non-profit organization that currently operates the farm, is not interested in purchasing the farm.

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