I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, and was used to the big skies of the Canadian prairies. After living in Toronto in the 1970s, I became desperate to get out, too many people. We had been vegetarians, but it didn’t suit me. So when I decided I wanted to eat good beef, I looked for land where I could grow my own cattle. Eventually I decided I had to branch out into market gardening because that’s where the market is.
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 southern most part of the Canadian shield. I like the landscape, the forest. It’s where I feel most at home, it’s where I’m happy.
My passion with food
I’m just trying to produce good organic food. I started with lettuce because Canadians eat lettuce year around; it’s not like sweet corn, only available in August. I grow many other vegetables but lettuce and beets are what I’m known for because they taste wonderful. I sell to restaurants and small retailers all around Muskoka, but mainly in July and August.
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. I know there are ways to restore the Indigenous content of the soil, but I’m 74 so don’t have much time. It takes 10-15 years of cover crops and minimal cultivation, with roots in the ground for at least 260 days a year, because you have to feed the micro-organisms.
My perspective on food sovereignty
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.
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 the future generations. And I’m falling short.
I’m totally discouraged now, because 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 compost and 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 activity and fungal activity increases water retention in the soil, reduces drought and flooding.
We’re writing our own demise. Civilizations fall because they’ve destroyed their ecosystem and can’t feed themselves.
There’s absolutely no political will for food sovereignty, zero. All these trade agreements, like CETA, NAFTA, the TPP, totally ignore the fact that we should be producing our own food. It’s export-oriented, and the farmers are hung out to dry.
My participation in the Legacies project
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. Because 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 cornbread; I experienced how nutritionally dense it was, I felt the energy.
When Ryan worked on the farm, he taught me Mohawk views of non-ownership; it was part of my consciousness anyway, but it brings it all together. Coming to know more about the Indigenous people has been an education. Learning from the Indigenous Food Sovereignty gathering organized by FoodShare on the Toronto islands, and getting to know Dawn Morrison in 2016 and hearing her on a recent webinar organized by the National Farmers’ Union.
Links to videos and photo essays