Recipients announced for rural Alberta opportunities grants

A solar greenhouse to grow local food security, support for a long-running farm women’s conference, and workshops to promote agritourism are just a few of the 43 projects throughout rural Alberta set to receive grant funding from the province this year.

The Small Community Opportunity Program was established in the 2023 provincial budget and is disbursing $3.2 million in grant funding to projects in Indigenous and small communities that help develop local economies. Individual project grants range from $20,000 to $100,000.

“The fact is when these communities succeed, all of Alberta is made stronger,” Agriculture and Irrigation Minister RJ Sigurdson said.

The grant program is designed to align with Alberta’s rural economic development plan, and each project addresses entrepreneurship and mentoring, skills development, small business supports, or interconnectivity and collaboration.

The Town of Athabasca is among the first cohort of grant recipients in the program and will receive $90,000 to assess the feasibility of a solar greenhouse business for food production.

Athabasca Mayor Robert Balay said the greenhouse is a bit of a pilot project to create more food security in the region, and one that will look at making private ventures for building greenhouses as economical and energy efficient as possible.

“We're just in the process of setting things up and starting to do the research. We're looking forward to this turning out to be a real economic driver for our region. But it's also a model that can be replicated in other rural communities,” he said.

The intention of the project is that the greenhouse will eventually be community run and community based, and capable of year-round food production, he said.

The town is in the early stages of the research and development phase and expects the study to be completed within the next 12 months.

Athabasca County also received a grant to host a Farm Women’s Conference in 2025 to foster skills, leadership development, and connection for women in nearby farming rural communities.

The Lac La Biche region has several successful agritourism ventures. Visitors can put on a beekeeping suit and get an inside look at the Christy Creek Honey apiary or spend an afternoon picking berries in an orchard. Lac La Biche County is hoping to expand the local agritourism industry and will receive $72,077 from the Small Community Opportunity Program to deliver workshops for growers, farmers, entrepreneurs and retailers interested in developing an agritourism business.

The government of Alberta is currently accepting applications for local projects in Indigenous and small communities for the 2024-25 round of funding.

Brett McKay, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Albert Gazette