Plans for living farm on Michener land move forward

Plans for a community urban farm proposed for about six acres near J.J. Gaetz House on Michener Centre land will be complete on Wednesday.

Plans for a community urban farm proposed for about six acres near J.J. Gaetz House on Michener Centre land will be complete on Wednesday.

The first draft from the Centennial Design Charrette was available at Festival Hall on Monday, at which time final input was to be gathered.

ReThink Red Deer spearheaded the planning process to revive the J.J. Gaetz heritage site. It was the home of John Jost (Jack) Gaetz, an early homesteader and extended member of Red Deer’s founding family.

Rene Michalak, project lead with ReThink Red Deer, said in addition to vegetable gardening, edible forest and perennial gardens and animal farming, ideas came forward for indoor growing techniques, food processing, and a place where new immigrants to Red Deer could demonstrate farming methods from their homeland. The site was also seen as a place for winter sports, like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and community celebrations.

“They did take into account the four seasons. It didn’t just end when the growing season ended,” Michalak said on Monday.

“It’s another gathering space in the community. A park that’s under-utilized. It’s a great potential amenity within the city.”

The site could be used to host school groups, summer camps for children, and tourists looking for an urban agricultural experience through programs like Willing Workers on Organic Farms-Canada that gives volunteers hands-on experience in organic and alternative farming in exchange for meals and accommodations.

He said it would be different than Sunnybrook Farm, which is a museum. A community urban farm would be a living farm.

J.J. Gaetz House, near 36th Avenue (Michener Road) and 55th Street, could be restored and used by the community similar to Cronquist House at Bower Ponds. A nearby outbuilding could also be retrofitted.

J.J. Gaetz House, an Edwardian-style brick home called Willow Villa, has been standing empty after being officially mothballed by the province in 2005. Built in 1918, the house is municipally designated historic property.

The province has yet to announce any plans for the future of Michener Centre property except for the closure of the centre.

Michalak said the city would still have to acquire the land from the province, but having an urban farm plan developed could be a “bargaining chip” to save the heritage site and create a legacy for Red Deer’s centennial.

“The measure of success for this event is not that the plan get implemented. It’s simply that the plan gets created, to educate our community on the history of that site, and give them inspiration as to what can be done to honour the heritage of the site.”

Michalak said if there’s enough interest and support, the plan could be taken forward to the city for the land to be acquired and made accessible for groups interested overseeing the project.

Monday’s event was the third held in September with presentations and small group discussions and schematic design exercises. About 20 people have been participating in the sessions.

The Centennial Design Charrette concludes on Wednesday with a Fall Supper at Heritage Ranch and the release of the final concept plan.

Tickets for the supper can be purchased at Heritage Ranch for $29.95 each. Children 12 and under can attend free of charge.