December 30, 2015

Measuring the quality of a semi-rural lifestyle

As published in The Erin Advocate

No doubt there is a price to be paid for living in an uncrowded area with plenty of fresh air, fresh water and fresh food. But senior governments need to be reminded of the value that rural communities provide to the economic and environmental welfare of city dwellers.

The Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation released a report this year that says small towns and Aboriginal communities have been getting the short end of the stick when it comes to services that all Canadians should enjoy.

“We have been neglecting rural Canada,” the report says. “Despite the vital role of rural places in this country, and despite their partnership with urban Canada, we have been neglecting rural places and permitting the erosion of an important community development foundation of Canadian society and economy. Fundamentally, we have forgotten how to re-invest in rural and small town places, preferring instead to simply run down the capital invested by previous generations.”

Erin may be relatively affluent, but most of our money is generated elsewhere, so there is a lack of motivation to invest in the local community. We need to demand a fair share of the wealth that comes from the offices and factories of the Greater Toronto Area, but the Foundation also urges us to be innovative in developing our own economy with local action.

“As we approach a re-imagined rural Canada we need to listen to rural peoples,” the report says. “We cannot re-imagine places and economies without the vision and experience of those who live and work every day in these places.”

Another report with more local information was released this year by Credit Valley Conservation (CVC), analyzing the changing use of farmland within our watershed based on the 2011 Census of Agriculture.

“Agricultural producers are key stakeholders in protecting environmental resources such as water, air, soil and biodiversity,” said Mike Puddister, Deputy CAO and Director of Watershed Transformation at CVC.

CVC provides financial incentives for farmers, stressing that conservation and improvement of environmental resources benefits everyone, including densely populated areas like Brampton and Mississauga.

“Adopting conservation practices is increasingly important with climate change,” said Mark Eastman, Agricultural Program Coordinator at CVC. “For example, planting buffer zones along streams protects fields from erosion, filters nutrients and pollutants, and shades water keeping it cool for fish.”

Ontario’s prime farmland is concentrated in the southern part of the province, where there is huge pressure for new homes, roads and businesses. So it is no surprise that from 1956 to 2011, Ontario lost 36% of its farmland – compared to an 8% decline in Canada as a whole.

The census data for the West Credit Subwatershed (most of the eastern half of the Town of Erin) show a 26% drop in the number of farms, from 1996 to 2011 (88 farms down to 65), with most of the decline from 1996 to 2001.

The total acreage, however, was down only 9.2%, since average farm size was increasing. Most of the farms are in the 10-69 acre category (25 of them) or 70-129 acres (15). While farm acreage was down, the total number of acres in the subwatershed being sprayed with herbicides was up 43% in 15 years, and acres sprayed with insecticide were up 32%.

Other trends in the larger watershed include more acreage in field crops and less in natural land for pasture. The number of farms producing fruit, berries and nuts was down by more than 50% in the 1996-2011 period. The number of farms producing vegetables was stable, but the acreage was down 34%.

The CVC study found that 50 per cent of farms in the watershed are rotating their crops, 28 per cent are using rotational grazing, 25 per cent have buffer zones around water bodies and 30 per cent have windbreaks and/or shelterbreaks within their fields. Of all the farmland, 48% was rented – up 14% over 15 years.