Acreages provide room for growth, rural sense of community

For more than two decades, Ray Howell has lived “free” on an acreage west of Calgary.

It’s a freedom that Howell doesn’t take lightly.

“I enjoy the opportunity to do what I want, within reason,” he said, noting the added benefits of raising children around animals, plus the smaller student-to-teacher ratio at school.

“We have a large garden and have had many animals throughout the years. Overall, you have more freedom to do what you want.”

More than 600,000, or 17 per cent, of Albertans lived in rural populations in 2011, according to Statistics Canada. That’s a far cry from 75 per cent who lived rural rather than urban in 1901.

Yet the pioneering spirit still remains throughout the province, said Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Verlyn Olson.

“Alberta’s rural history is inextricably tied to pioneers,” he said. “They are the men and women who founded farms, built businesses and put their hearts and souls into communities for the promise of prosperity and quality of life unequalled in other frontiers.

“Today, that spirit remains. We see the advent of new-age pioneers who look beyond our borders for markets, look outside the conventional for enterprises and look inside their communities for strength of purpose.”

Rocky View County resident Debbie Malyk cites the fresh country air behind her decision to farm outside of Airdrie for the last 30 years.

But she also sees the benefits of having the farm-to-table loop closer to home.

“We can have a big garden. We grow everything ourselves – from our beef to our vegetables and things like that,” she said.

The county’s struggle to balance new urban development with existing rural infrastructure recently made the headlines when it turned down an application from the Rockyview Motorsports Corp. for a 146-hectare race course, which would have included race track, karting facility and a driving training centre. The county found the site would be unsuitable for an area with a ranch and farm land-use designation.

“Rocky View County values agricultural land as an important part of the economic and social fabric of the municipality,” said council. “The county subjects ranch and farm land to the same careful planning and development considerations as any other land-use type.”