It started a couple of years ago, when four local farmers requested that a portion of their farmland be re-zoned for residential/commercial/industrial use. Area residents are up in arms, saying that these farmers are selling out by wanting prime farm land to be eaten up by homes, apartment buildings and big box stores. They’ve set up a web site and created placards that say SOS: No Farms, No Food. I saw row after row of these placards as I drove into Wolfville and I chatted with a couple of the local residents about their concerns.
I don’t want to see farmland disappear any more than anyone else. In fact I’m pretty passionate about the subject. But I got the impression that a number of people who have a sign on their lawn don’t know the whole story here. I was told of two instances when, upon learning both sides of the issue, the people took down their signs. The problem with not knowing the facts is that you can end up fighting the wrong enemy. More on that in a moment.
After speaking with the SOS folks, I talked to one of the farm families that have asked for re-zoning. They are very frustrated with all the false information going around, but they don’t have the money or time to launch a counter campaign. For instance, this family said they have no intention of turning their land into a Walmart parking lot as has been rumoured. All they want is access to water and sewer lines so they can be on an even playing field with other farms in the area. That being said, they explained that some of the other farms may be trying to sell the land as residential lots not necessarily because they want to, but because that’s the only way they can get a fair price for the property. Selling it as farm land will earn them peanuts. They pointed out that farmers don’t have RRSPs that they can fall back on in old age, (not like some of the university professors and other professionals who are spearheading the Save our Farms campaign) so they are finding themselves in a position of having to selling off a portion of their farm first just to keep the rest of the farm running, and second to have a little bit to live on in their senior years. They find it ironic that some people who are waging this very personal attack on them live in homes that were not too long ago built on prime farmland.
Let me tell you a story about this family. Last year, they were approached by Super Store. The grocery chain asked them to plant 30 acres of corn and said it would purchase the corn from them at the end of the growing season. I’m not sure why there was no signed contract, but there wasn’t. When it came time to harvest the corn, Super Store had changed its mind, saying it could purchase the produce cheaper from Quebec. This family had to plow under the corn and they took a huge loss.
Another local farmer was also approached about selling his corn to the Co-op grocery store. The store did up a big flyer with his photo and with the slogan ‘Grown Close to Home’. The problem is that the flyer advertised the corn for a price so low that the farmer would have to take a loss if he sold it to them. When he went to them to say that first of all, his corn wasn’t even ready yet, and second that he could not sell it to them at that low price, The Co-op store just turned around and purchased corn from Quebec. However they continued to use the farmer’s photo and the ‘Grown Close to Home’ slogan. Other local farmers, not knowing all the details, were angry with him because they thought he was undercutting them.
It’s instances like this that lead me to believe that the residents of the Annapolis Valley have identified the wrong culprit. In my mind, the locals should be supporting the farmers in their struggle to make a go of it. Instead of boycotting area farmers, which only contributes to their financial instability and makes it more necessary for them to resort to selling off parts of their farming operation, I would like to see the good Valley folk boycotting Super Store and Co-op with its shelves of produce shipped from half way across the country or the world. I would also like to see the residents lobbying the government to set up some kind of a vegetable/fruit marketing board or quota system (similar to what is in place for dairy, poultry, livestock and egg farmers) to help set fair prices and protect farmers from the slimey practices of grocery conglomerates. I suggest pressure should also be put on the government to provide subsidies or low-interest loans as a way of helping young people who are trying to get into farming while at the same time providing fair market value for those needing or wanting to sell off some of their agricultural land.
I have my own sad story that’s taking place right now on my N. S. farm. More on that in my next posting.