2009 Frank Awards: Dieter Kuhlman & Monique Nutter

The Tomato’s Frank Award honours the person, place, or thing that has most contributed to culinary life in Edmonton in the past year: farmer, rancher, chef, restaurateur, market/grocer, scientist, food, or dish. The award is named for Frank Spinelli, who built a legacy in the grocery business, now carried on by his daughter Teresa. We applaud his vision, tenacity, perseverance, and sense of community and look for these qualities in Frank Award nominees.

The 2009 Frank Award is shared by Monique Nutter of the Greater Edmonton Foundation (GEA) and Dieter Kuhlmann, founder of Kuhlmann’s Market Gardens, for bringing the issue of urban farmland into the fore and onto Edmonton’s Municipal Development Plan.

The specific land in question, a bit of North Saskatchewan alluvial soil, is rare and unusual, class one agricultural land ideally suited to intensive vegetable farming. The area occupies a unique microclimate—both the soils and air are warmer, allowing farmers to have crops in the market by June. The availability of irrigation and proximity to market are second to none.

But up until the change in the MDP, this land’s value as productive farmland did not come into the picture.

Dieter Kuhlmann and his family had built a viable market garden business on some of this prime agricultural land. The ability of others to do so had been compromised by its lack of status.

“Where we are, there’s already a lot of encroachment, government, hospitals, small acreages, the Henday,” says Dieter. “But further north on the open tableland, the prime farming area east of the Manning freeway, was considered empty and non-productive in an economic sense. This change makes a huge difference.

“It’s quite a coup to have the city incorporate agricuture into a long term strategy,”says Dieter. “To have the GEA on board meant that ordinary citizens got involved. But many things still need to be defined.”

How will this happen?

“Negotiation,” says Dieter. “Land trades, the ability of developers to offer land in exchange for higher density in a city housing project for example.”

“I’m a homemaker trained as a social worker,” says Monique Nutter. “It wasn’t until I realized that many people, even members of my family, ate so differently (more processed convenience foods) from when I grew up, that I really started to think about food.”
What did it mean?

“I got involved as a volunteer with the GEA (an umbrella group whose mission is to organize people for the common good) through the Ebenezer United Church,“ says Monique. “I started learning about the cost of food, climate change, energy costs, and the pressure on families because of these things. After having kids, I was asking myself, what are we leaving behind?

“I helped organize a local food dinner, and met (local farmer) Jim Visser. That’s when I found out that good farmland was in danger.

“The MDP had one little paragraph that touched on food security, that talked about community gardens. We knew it would take more than that.

“Essentially, now the MDP states farmland has value as farmland and that must be taken into consideration for any development decision.”
What’s next?

“There’s still work to be done.” says Monique. “The city has hired a planning firm with experience (HB Lanark, Vancouver worked with the City of Tsawwassen to build agriculture into their plan.) We still need a city-wide food-agriculture strategy.

“When we first came here (as pioneers) people couldn’t wait to get off the farm,” says Dieter. “Now everybody wants to garden and be close to the land again. It’s come full circle. But, we need to recognize that growing things is a right, that it’s useful to all. You can’t have some homeowners saying one farm that has been there for years, now makes too much mud and noise. That’s not right. It’s good to have farms,” says Dieter.