I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, and was used to the big skies of the Canadian prairies. Living in Toronto in the 1970s, eating a vegetarian diet to avoid commercial meat, I looked for land where I could raise my own cattle.
I had worked for 15 years as a geologist in the bush on the Canadian shield. The farm is in the rocky Muskoka region, 160 km north of Toronto, in the southernmost part of the Canadian shield. I like the landscape, the forest. It’s where I feel most at home.
I don’t own this land, it owns me. I have the use of this land, which makes me responsible for maintaining the health of the whole ecosystem and keeping it productive for future generations. And I’m falling short.
I’m just trying to produce clean nutrient dense food. I had to branch out into market gardening, because that’s where the money is. I started with lettuce because Canadians eat lettuce year around. I grow many other vegetables but lettuce and beets are what I’m known for, because they taste wonderful.
I don’t over-fertilize, which makes things grow faster but doesn’t add to the nutritional quality of the food. Now I’m aiming for nutrient dense crops, because we’re depleting the soil life, most significantly of fungi. It takes 10-15 years of cover crops and minimal cultivation, with roots in the ground for at least 260 days a year, to feed the micro-organisms.
Food sovereignty to me means that we have the ability to produce locally most of what we need to eat; to provide the population with good, nutritious, culturally-appropriate foods. It’s a human right to have food and water.
There’s absolutely no political will for food sovereignty, zero. All the trade agreements, like CETA, NAFTA, the TPP, totally ignore the fact that we should be producing our own food and mandate globalization of commerce.
The planet-friendly diet promoted by the UN and the new Canadian Food Guide emphasize plant-based protein, which leaves livestock producers and dairy out in the cold. You can’t farm organically without livestock; you need composted manure to produce vegetables and grains. It’s what keeps the soil healthy. Grassland sequesters more carbon than anything else; a healthy grassland with lots of microbial and fungal activity increases water retention in the soil, reduces drought and flooding, and increases nutrient cycling. We’re writing our own demise. Civilizations fall because they’ve destroyed their ecosystem and can’t feed themselves.
The Legacies exchange has been a total joy, and a huge education. Being reunited with those I worked with over the years, and getting to know new people has been rewarding. If we’re talking about food sovereignty and feeding ourselves well and with nutrient dense food, Chandra knows how to do it. It was a total awakening to eat her corn bread; I experienced how nutritionally dense it was, I felt the energy.
Learning from the Indigenous Food Sovereignty gathering organized by FoodShare on the Toronto islands, and getting to know Dawn Morrison in 2016 made me feel the deep wounds we as settler colonialists have caused.