ARSAN is the successor of the Parkland Conservation Farm Association (PCFA). The initial mandate of PCFA was demonstrating beneficial practices on a field level scale to farmers, most notably the value of reduced tillage. However, over the years as PCFA accomplished its initial goals and as the practice of low tillage was becoming widely spread, farmers’ interest waned.
To stay relevant, PCFA shifted its focus to teaching Alberta youth about agriculture and environmental conservation which was at that time supported by granting agencies. In this field, PCFA has built a strong reputation in a short time. Eventually, however, the interest of its rural supporters and of those organizations that funded the initial mandate became insufficient to allow operations to continue. PCFA had to choose between ceasing operations or refocusing to become relevant again through meeting current demands of society and building on its strength and past achievements. In 2007, the PCFA board decided to move on a new path; they hired a new manager with the mandate to explore how the organization could again be of value to people of Alberta.
Charrette, the Turning Point
In February, 2008 a charrette (a brainstorming event) was organized to better define the future of PCFA. It was led by the renowned promoter of sustainable development, Avi Friedman, a professor of architecture from McGill University in Montreal. The event was well attended by a host of rural and urban representatives associated with PCFA or supporting it. The gathering identified a new general direction that PCFA needed to take to become relevant to our society. That direction could be best described as a move to explore sustainability, particularly in rural areas. As a result, a new board with a distinctly different representation was elected and given a mandate to shape the details of the future direction, present it to wider groups of interest, organize support and eventually find funding for PCFA’s proposed initiatives and future activities.
Laying the Foundation
The work of the new PCFA board and its supporters throughout 2008–2009 resulted in new strategic concepts for the organization. These concepts proved their relevance by gaining support of many different organizations and individuals. Consequently, these concepts helped secure a two-year grant from the Rural Community Adaptation Program to build the proposed new organization and work towards implementation of initially identified projects. In 2010 PCFA assumed its new identity as the Alberta Rural Sustainable Alternatives Network (ARSAN) and started implementing the initiative.
Being true to its name, the renewed organization is not committed to just one place but is working to create a network of people, organizations and projects. The Parkland Conservation Farm (PCF) is still part of ARSAN, and funded programs that were associated with PCF continued until exhaustion of grant resources. ARSAN is still committed to providing youth with an education that is in line with its renewed mandate and is willing to operate on the PCF’s land but the future of PCF operations depends on available funding and future land lease arrangements.
Partnership with the Town of Viking
In 2009 viable prospects emerged to implement at least two of the initially identified projects in proximity to the Town of Viking. These are: the bio-intensive demonstration farm and the conservation village. To support these opportunities, partnership talks with the Town of Viking were started. The town was also interested in exploring how a shift towards sustainability could help its own long-term viability. Consequently, the town with assistance of ARSAN applied for and received a two-year RCAP grant to become a Rural Sustainability Demonstration Town. A formal partnership was developed between ARSAN and the Town of Viking to support each other in the forthcoming efforts. ARSAN set up its office in Viking, in the Town's building.