Protect Our Farmlands Q&A
This Q&A is a little bit different, as I am featuring a concept more than a specific individual. Today I want to highlight an incredibly important issue, that so few of us are aware of: high quality farm land, and its role in food security. Words like "eat local" are definitely buzz words at the moment, but how much do you really know about your local food? Growing real, whole foods requires land and quality soil; in an ever industrializing world, the premium food-growing land (called Class 1 Farmland) is being destroyed in the name of modernization. Eating local requires the protection of the land, and if nobody speaks up for this land- we will loose this precious land and the sacred gift that is traditional farming.
This Q&A features my beautiful friend Ellen Reesor and her aunt, Susan. Ellen is the founder and owner of Kind By Yoga Heart, a yoga studio located on the property of her family's farmland in Stouffville, Ontario, Canada. Ellen grew up on a farm, her passion and knowledge on the subject is truly inspiring. Ellen and Susan are involved with Land Over Landings, an organization working to protect class 1 farmland in Ontario, Canada. Although this Q&A delves into the particulars of this Canadian area, I urge you to explore food security in your own region and get involved.
A portion of the proceeds from the Kind Yoga By Heart studio goes to the Ontario Farmland Trust.
Q&A with ELLEN and SUSAN REESOR
1. What impact did growing up in a family of farmers have on you?
A large part of my childhood was spent outside climbing trees, making mud pies and catching frogs in the pond behind our house with my cousins. There were 22 of us cousins, and we were a tight knit pack of wolves. Our families were Mennonite farmers and we lived a short distance from one another, so naturally we spent every weekend together and would get together after church. "I'm bored" was never really a part of our vocabulary, and I suspect it's because we spent so much of our time outside. Some of my fondest memories are of playing hide and go seek tag in the field corn, playing tomato smash (baseball with rotten tomatoes which inevitably shifted into aggressive dodgeball with rotten tomatoes haha) and trudging through the muddy fields only to get our boots stuck and have to pull each other out. I also spent a lot of time alone outside and spent hours exploring, running, cart wheeling, just being myself. Because a lot of the play was unstructured, myself and my siblings/cousins had the opportunity to get creative and choose what we did and when. In my early childhood, being on the farm instilled a healthy amount of confidence, positive self esteem and autonomy.
As I grew into my teen years, the farm became so much more than a playground. It became one of my first jobs, where I learned the value and satisfaction of real hard work. One summer I gave my Uncle Rob a call and told him I wanted to go out to the field and pick corn with the boys. I looked up to my cousins, and wanted to be tough just like them haha. He responded with "Okay, but are you sure? It's hard work." I was more than sure. I was the only girl on the crew, but I was determined to prove myself and pull my weight. I made some of the most important memories of my life waking up at the crack of dawn, walking through rows and rows and more rows of corn bent over sweating. The work was tough, but life was simple. Aside from listening to the boys goof around and act like clowns, I remember I had some very pivotal and profound life conversations with them, too. It was just us and the fields, and we had the space and safety to question life and ask existential questions. I'm grateful to have grown up around so many amazing cousins who had important morals and values instilled in them, and part of those values, I believe came from the humble life of farming. As a child the farm taught me confidence and autonomy, and ironically as a teenager, the farm taught me humility, team work, and gratitude. I learned about the back breaking work that goes into growing, harvesting, and delivering the food that nourishes me, day in and day out.
At 18 years old I left home and travelled. I explored Indonesia, Australia, Fiji, Brazil, America and was mesmerized by the beauty of these places but deep down I always missed home. I missed Ontario and our beautiful lush farmland, and the powerful community that existed within it. Upon returning from my travels I felt so relieved and at peace to finally step foot on Canadian soil. I had a new found respect for our country and province, and all that it had to offer. Sometimes it takes leaving to realize what you left behind. I had spent time in places where the soil is so dry and undernourished that food is frighteningly scarce. I had seen places where clean water was expensive, and a resource that was not easily accessed. I had seen places where communities were struggling day by day to make ends meet .
My aunt and uncle always told me "to much whom is given, much is expected", and those words have stuck like glue. We stand on some of the worlds richest, yet most endangered soil, which provides the most basic human need, food. What can I do to help protect it? Personally I cannot take any credit for the fight that has been fought to protect this land. It's absolutely astounding how long and hard people before me have been fighting to protect this land.
However, I currently own and operate a yoga studio that is situated on this land, and my hope when creating it was that students would connect with the land while there, and form a respect and relationship with it. (If you don't know nature intimately, its difficult not to become apathetic towards it).
Every day that students are coming to the farm, they are experiencing its healing capabilities, and are more and more passionate about it's importance. The more people that care and are aware, the bigger the impact we have.
2. What is food security, and why does it matter?
When people have available access to a sufficient amount of food at all times, they are considered food secure. Because class 1 farmland is so fertile and productive, farmers are able to plant a diverse variety of crops with very few limitations.
If you look on a global scale at a large number of countries or continents like Africa, Sudan, Bangladesh or Iraq, etc, there are a plethora of limiting factors like undesirable soil structure and/or low permeability, erosion, low fertility, inundation by streams or lakes, moisture limitation, stoniness, low access to water that create severe limitations on what you can or cannot grow. This is a big problem as humans need a diverse diet that includes many vitamins and nutrients, and unfortunately there isn't a magical crop that provides all of those needs.
3. What is class 1 farmland, and why is it so important to permanently protect this type of land?
Class 1 Farmland is the most fertile and productive- and the most endangered land. Less than 10% of Canada's land mass is farmable. Only 0.5% of that is Class 1 Farmland, much of it in Southern Ontario, where 175 acres are lost to other uses every day.
4. What is currently going on with the Pickering Federal Lands and can you tell us a little bit more about who “Land Over Landings” is, and what they are up to?
HISTORY: In March 1972, the federal government began the process to expropriate 18,600 acres of Class 1 Farmland northeast of Toronto to replace Malton Airport (now Pearson) as Toronto's main airport. It was said that this new airport would be needed by 1979 to accommodate a looming explosion of passenger traffic.
Within days of this being announced a grassroots group called People Over Planes formed to stop the plan. They argued the airport was not needed and the location on class 1 farmland made it an unsuitable location. Three years of determined effort persuaded the province of Ontario to pull out of the deal and shelve their part of the plan. However, the federal government hung onto the land saying they needed to protect the long range option for the development of a major airport at Pickering. Land Over Landings emerged in 2005 replacing POP and became the voice of the protest. They began to argue for the permanent protection of the class 1 farmland instead of an airport.
Over the past decades the federal government conducted many costly studies examining the requirements for an airport. One, released in 2011 pushed the possible need for an airport further into the future, suggesting one would be needed by 2027-2037.
In 2013 and 2015 significant portions of the airport were given to the Rouge National Urban Park leaving 9,600 acres still at risk. Then in December 2017 the Greater Toronto Airports Authority declared that Pearson's five existing runways would be sufficient to 2037 and an already approved 6th runway would not be necessary.
Today, 46 years after the expropriation, north Pickering languishes in perpetual limbo, reduced to an economic wasteland. Yet the class 1 farmland still remains an extremely valuable asset with the potential to return long term prosperity to the area if permanently protected and used to its full advantage.
***A new economic impact study commissioned by Land Over Landings, explores the many, and sometimes unexpected possibilities and new job opportunities that could arise--starting now--if permanent and carefully planned agricultural activities were allowed to be established and flourish on the remaining Federal Lands. See the report here: http://landoverlandings.com/resources/a-future-for-the-lands-economic-impact-of-remaining-pickering-federal-lands-if-returned-to-permanent-agriculture/