Food stamps that can be used only at farmers’ markets and development restrictions on “quality farmland,” are just two of the proposals put forward by a farmer’s union local last week.
“(We need to) consider development restrictions on quality farmland or even marginal farmland,” said Hilary Moore of Maple Lane Farm in Lanark, who is also president of the local chapter of the National Farmers’ Union, was speaking at a public meeting entitled “Our Resources, Our Future”. The meeting was held in the council chambers at Perth town hall on Wednesday, Nov. 14.
When Moore was working on an internship at an organization that helped “women in crisis,” in Massachusetts, following her graduation from Carleton University, she heard of a program in which women using the program were given special food stamps that could only be used at farmers’ markets in the Bay State. The farmers would then send the stamps in to the state government, and would be reimbursed, thereby helping not only the needy, but the state’s farmers too, and encouraging the purchase of locally-grown produce.
Moore also urged more community and school gardens, and noted that a packet of lettuce seeds retails for about $1.39 and can provide two years of lettuce in a backyard garden.
“We are only a generation away from being removed from out agrarian roots,” said Moore. “We need a systematic shift to make the local food movement no longer be a niche (movement), so that it is a part of our everyday language.”
But the ever-present realities of politics at all levels have been affecting the implementation of school gardens which she has helped develop.
The ongoing struggles with Ontario’s schools, the job actions taken by teachers as a result of Bill 115, and even cutbacks, are having an impact on how farming and the natural world is presented to students.
“There is nothing more disheartening than seeing something that you worked hard on for two years ripped up,” said Moore, when a school garden project ends, because a new principal is appointed and the program does not continue because of cutbacks and “stretched” teachers. Moore did venture that local, enterprising volunteers could see about establishing a community garden in Stewart Park, like was done in the downtown Ottawa neighbourhood of Vanier, at Richelieu Park (which also houses North America’s only urban sugar bush.)
Aside from that, in class and out, “young people are shown that farming is not a viable living. It is unaffordable for people to afford land.”
Even international politics is affecting how people can do something as simple as re-planting seeds here in Lanark County. Moore singled out the European Union-Canadian free trade agreement which is being hammered out, noting that it is the first such deal that “zones in on municipal resources. It is another attack on saving seed. It is inhibiting our rights.”
She also charged that, under the deal, Canadian markets would open up to Europe and vice versa and, as a result, “supply management will be out the window.” The Harper government has show its willingness to do away with such mechanisms – witness the dismantling of the Wheat Board – but Moore alleged that, under the deal, “we will be bargaining with the Swiss and Germans for milk. We could be drinking Swiss and German milk,” instead of Canadian milk.
Attendee Marlene Rutherford, herself a “seed saver,” agreed with Moore’s concerns about the ability to save seeds.
“I am extremely concerned about this issue,” said Rutherford. “(I feel that) all patents of seeds should be repealed.”
Rutherford encouraged the assembled to look at, say, a kiwi fruit the next time they are in the supermarket. A seed saver like herself would be inclined to have the fruit and then save the seeds for planting. She charged that, under current laws, in reality, before that seed gets put into the ground, because the fruit comes from a multinational corporation in New Zealand, “you are supposed to pay money to that multinational corporation,” if you wish to reuse their seeds.
Rutherford did commend Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington MP Scott Reid for listening to her concerns and forwarding them on to federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, but she had other suggestions that she wanted to see implemented in Perth.
“I want to bring chickens back to Perth!” she said. “I understand that there are health concerns.”