by Deron Johnston
When someone talks about farming, certain visuals usually come to mind. The first one might be of a herd of dairy cows grazing in a pasture, or maybe some type of crop growing on hundreds of acres of land. However, according to a 2012 United Nations report on “Food and Agriculture: The future of sustainability”, the future of agriculture lies in the form of small-scale, sustainable farming. Our current large-scale agriculture model leaves our food supply and the cost of food vulnerable to a number of issues, such as climate change. So what would this new visual of farming look like? Let’s explore some of the options that are available to be implemented by practically anyone.
One of the options that was discussed briefly at last year’s Eastern Ontario Local Food Conference was the idea of urban farming. This is a broad topic in itself, but, for our purposes, let’s specifically look at the trend of ‘lawn farming’. It’s the practice of replacing the lawn of a single home with a garden. “Don’t grow grass, grow food”, would be the mantra for this movement. From lawns the size of postage stamps, to larger two-acre properties as we have in some areas of North Grenville, people can not only grow a significant amount of their own food, but can also sell some of the yield at the local farmers’ market, at a roadside stand, to community-based local food operations like the Two Rivers Food Hub, or local retailers and restaurants.
Another option that was discussed at the EOLFC was modular or ‘vertical farming’. This is the practice of producing food vertically in layers, similar to a kind of growing wall, instead of the traditional method of farming horizontally or flat on a field. This type of farming is very interesting, as it can be done in a wide variety of locations using everything from a metal shipping container, a basement, an apartment bedroom, or something larger, like a warehouse. This method allows the farmer to control the climate much better than outdoors, where the crop may be vulnerable to weather elements. There have been recent advancements in controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) technology that can support this type of agriculture.
The final option we’ll look at, very briefly, is permaculture, which is “a system of agricultural and social design centred on stimulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems”. Traditional farming methods often utilize a single, or two-crop philosophy, while permaculture is looking at agriculture as more of a self contained system that can use its own inputs to help sustain itself. The philosophy is a kind of “work with nature, rather than against it” process, where, rather than bringing in outside resources (that may damage or disturb the natural system or environment) to encourage growth of certain crops, use the resources generated by the system itself, that occur naturally.
Each year, Ontario imports an estimated $4 billion in food to feed itself. If we could reduce this food deficit, starting at the local level, it could help spawn new businesses, create new jobs and reduce our dependency on other regions and countries, making our food supply and the cost of food much less vulnerable to outside influences. I believe that North Grenville is uniquely situated to be able to take advantage of this new change of direction for sustainable agriculture. We are very fortunate in that, if the Municipality of North Grenville were able to acquire the former Kemptville College, agricultural research, education, and training could be brought back to North Grenville. Keep your green thumbs crossed.