Prairie Gardens can reopen for agribusiness as of Sept. 23 now that it has committed to addressing traffic safety, county officials have announced.
Sturgeon County posted a notice Sept. 23 that it had received the necessary information and commitments from Prairie Gardens in order for it to let the business resume intensive agriculture operations for the rest of this year. These include u-pick sales, corn mazes, hayrides, and other small-scale events.
A popular agritourism destination near Bon Accord, Prairie Gardens was ordered by the county to suspend all greenhouse, u-pick, market garden, and agritourism operations as of Aug. 17 following its breach of a forbearance agreement and public safety concerns. It also capped the number of people who could be on the farm each day at 100.
As a condition for it to reopen, Prairie Gardens is to make safety improvements in line with provincial guidelines to ensure safe vehicle movement to and within its sites, the notice said. Prairie Gardens is to adopt revised operating hours, improve parking and pedestrian safety, and restrict people from walking between its two sites.
In an email, county spokesperson Jackie Sargent said the county had replaced the 100-person-a-day cap on Prairie Gardens with traffic count limits set to ensure safe travel. The farm is to allow no more than 50 trips a day to its north entrance and up to 100 a day to its south one on weekdays. These limits rise to 380 at the north and 174 at the south on weekends and holidays. Weekend and holiday operations will require speed limit changes, traffic flaggers, and other measures to stay within these limits, all implemented at the farm's cost.
Prairie Gardens owner Tam Andersen was overjoyed when reached by The Gazette Sept. 23 and asked about the notice.
“We are so happy!" she said.
"We are absolutely relieved and so thankful we’re able to move forward.”
Andersen said Prairie Gardens completed a traffic impact analysis for the county which found that the farm would not need to build turning lanes for about 20 years. The analysis found traffic flows to the farm were pretty low most of the year apart from a few peak times, such as Open Farm Days and pumpkin season.
Prairie Gardens and the county agreed on a list of measures to address traffic safety concerns for the rest of this year.
First, the farm will now be open from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. instead of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Andersen said these new hours will let the farm hold some evening events on weekends.
Second, Andersen said the speed limit at Lily Lake Road and Township Road 564 near the farm’s pumpkin patch will be reduced to 50 km/h from 100 km/h on weekends while the farm is open from now until the end of October (pumpkin season). The speed limit in front of the farm itself will also drop to 50 km/h from 70 km/h during these times. Staff will deploy temporary speed signs similar to those seen in construction zones along the roads to alert drivers to these changes.
Third, the farm now has an official parking lot layout with staff directing traffic and pedestrians. Staff and “no pedestrian” signs will be used to remind guests not to walk between the farm’s two sites.
Andersen said the farm will also ask guests to buy timed tickets online before visiting this year to better manage traffic.
Andersen said Prairie Gardens almost went bankrupt due to the county’s Aug. 17 order and was at risk of losing its crops. Hundreds of volunteers rallied to help harvest and take home the farm’s pumpkins, potatoes, and other vegetables in recent weeks, with each receiving family passes to the farm as thanks.
“It feels like it’s been a village that’s pulled together to save a pumpkin farm,” Andersen said.
Andersen said the farm hopes to finish this year’s harvest (which is about half done) next month by rehiring staff and resuming u-pick and market garden operations. The county’s proposed diversified agriculture bylaw, if passed, would let the farm get the permits it needs to continue operations next year.
Sturgeon County will hold a second public hearing on the diversified agriculture bylaw Oct. 6. Visit bit.ly/3LEnbfK for details.