Jeff Green | Oct 25, 2007
Feature Article - October 25, 2007 - October 25, 2007 From the Ground Up: Local FoodPrimer (Part 1 of 2)By Jeff Green
Beef cattle are raised on 50% of Frontenac County farms
Food Down the Road, a year-long project aimed at developing a mechanism to promote and expand the consumption and production of locally grown food, is set to culminate next week with a Food Summit in Kingston.
Thomas Homer-Dixon, a Professor of Political Science and the author of “The Ingenuity Gap” will deliver a keynote address, “Local Food Systems and Social Resilience”, to the conference on Friday, November 2, at the Sydenham Street United Church in Kingston. A series of food-related workshops will be held at St. Lawrence College on Saturday, followed by the drafting of a Local Food Declaration on Sunday the 4th. For information about the Food Summit, go to Fooddowntheroad.ca or phone 613-767-4127.
Food Down the Road was initiated by members of Local 316 of the National Farmer’s Union, and was launched in Sydenham at the Local 316 AGM at the end of November last year. The project has expanded to include partners such as South Frontenac Township, the City of Kingston, the KFL&A Health Unit, St. Lawrence College and others. The ultimate goal is to develop a connection between eaters in the City of Kingston (and smaller centres as well) and the rural food growers living within 100 kilometres of the city.
A series of evening events took place in the spring of this year, and with the publication of a 75-page book called From the Ground Up: A primer for community action, a vision for the future of local food initiatives in Kingston and Frontenac County is emerging.
The primer points to many of the realities of modern food production and consumption and talks about mechanisms for change, making it a valuable resource for anyone interested in food issues in the Kingston catchment area.
A look back at the history of agriculture in Frontenac County reveals that the first European immigrants (between 1763 and 1850) found the land inhospitable for farming; there was too much clay in the south and too much rock in the north.
Some "boosters" such as the Midland District Land Company proved that the advertising industry was alive and well in the 1800's. They encouraged immigrants to “go beyond the 'gloomy woods of Portland’ and encounter the 'fine lands' of Hinchinbrooke, Olden, and parts of Loughborough with their small crystal lakes of countless numbers, their rivers and rivulets, and springs, not of muddy and stagnant waters, ... and all abounding with fish ... The very sight of the timber itself, without putting spade in the ground is sufficient to convince any judge of the fertility of the soil."
Although wheat was a staple crop elsewhere, accounting for 50% cultivated land in some counties, it comprised only 15% in Frontenac County, with oats, peas and hay, as well as livestock, being more prevalent.
With widespread settlement and the establishment of the K&P railroad, the late 19th and early part of the 20th Century saw the peak of the agricultural economy in Frontenac County. In 1910, there were 68 cheese factories in the county, and there were almost 35,000 head of cattle in the county by 1941.
Between 1941 and 1973, the number of acres of farmland in Frontenac County dropped from over 560,000 to just over 250,000, and there were corresponding decreases in the numbers of cattle, swine, and sheep, although the amount of barley, oats and milk produced did increase in that time.
The total number of farms in Frontenac County has continually dropped since 1973. The most recent census shows there are 672 farms in the county, down from 733 a decade earlier. Cattle farming has been a mainstay in the county, and while only 14% of farms in Frontenac and Lennox and Addington County are still involved in dairy production, over 50% of the farms in the two counties produce beef as their main product.
Correspondingly, hay and corn are now the main crops grown in the two counties.
Another alarming statistic highlighted in the primer is the average age and income of farmers in Frontenac and L&A. Average farm income in the two counties is $8,628 per year (after agricultural subsidies). Given that, is not surprising that in the 2001 census over 50% of farmers in Frontenac County reported that they work off the farm as well. The average age of farmers in the county is 53, as compared to 38 for the general work force.
Such a gloomy picture for agriculture is not unique to this part of Ontario, although things might be worse here than in other regions. The causes can be found in food distribution and consumption patterns that have become established locally and throughout Canada and the United States. Local solutions that “From the Ground Up” proposes for discussion purposes, mirror those that have been employed elsewhere, with some local flavour thrown in for good measure.
(Part 2 of this article, which will look at food distribution and proposals for change, will be published in an upcoming issue of the News)