It only takes a short stroll through your local grocery store to figure out that affordable, locally-grown, healthy food is a scarce commodity in Niagara today. For many, if not most, families, organic food is simply beyond their budget. One Grimsby resident is hoping to change all that.
Renee Delaney, the Executive Director of the Niagara Farm Project, understands that the scarcity of affordable, locally-grown food is not so much an income issue as much as it is how we farm as a community. We rely too little on ourselves for the food that we need.
The Niagara Farm Project, according to Delaney, is about “building a self-reliant food economy in Niagara… it’s about farming Niagara as a whole, as a collective.”
So far, the project has four farm locations, more than 80 acres of land and 19 farmers and volunteers from across the Niagara Region, including students. The idea behind it is collaborative micro farming, and this idea is not a new one. In fact, micro farming has been going on for centuries.
It’s only since the widespread introduction of factory farming and commercial agriculture that self-reliant food economies have largely disappeared from developed countries, forcing most people now to rely on imported foods and grocery chains.
Developed societies have reaped many benefits from this industry. It has allowed for the mass production of food, increased urbanization and has made hunger largely a thing of the past in our countries. The tradeoff, however, are the increasingly steep prices we pay in the grocery store for the food we need.
With wages stagnant, jobs harder to find and increasing income inequality, more and more people are starting to feel the pinch at the grocery store. The problem goes much further than what we can afford; people also want healthy nutritious food. The solution to this growing problem, Delaney believes, lies in making Niagara self-reliant. The ultimate question is how.
The strategy behind the Niagara Farm Project is to develop a collaborative network of students, volunteers and farmers who will sow seeds and raise livestock across the region.
By having people work their own land or contribute their time to the project’s farms, the community will not only be able to offer residents more accessible locally-grown alternatives but less expensive food as well. The “goal is to develop a system of farming specific to Niagara,” the project’s website says.
The project has already accumulated 80 acres of land, sowing fresh fruits and vegetables and raising traditional livestock. “We are trying to break through the barriers that people have,” said Delaney.
While the project’s ultimate goal is to make Niagara a self-reliant food economy, its driving philosophy is permaculture. The idea comes from the work of Professor David Holmgren and his student Bill Mollison, two Australians who developed the idea in 1978.
Inspired in part by Masanobu Fukuoka, a Japanese philosopher. Mollison defines “permaculture” as “a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.”
In essence, it’s a system of agriculture that relies on and uses the natural ecosystem. However, it is also a social philosophy in that it asks us to consider how we can use our natural and urban surroundings to reduce our ecological footprint, regenerate landscapes and develop ethical economies that protect wildlife and biodiversity. This includes everything from growing gardens in our backyard to designing ecologically-friendly homes.
Permaculture or ‘permanent culture’ as it is sometimes called also forces us to consider our food security as a community. One of the major issues associated with industrial farming and commercial agriculture is ecological damage. It can cause or contribute to desertification where land becomes dry and arid. Animal waste, chemical run-off and other pollutants can seep into water supplies. Forest clearing and other major industrial projects associated with mass food production create severe pressures on plant and animal life.
More sustainable methods of food production are needed if we are to reverse the damage being done to our ecosystem. It is in many respects a win-win situation where we enhance our food security, become more self-reliant, reduce production costs and reduce the overall strain we are placing on our environment.
“Growing food locally makes sense. It decreases environmental impact and contributes less to large scale agricultural practices, including the mass production of Genetically Modified Organisms,” the website says.
“As we take these methods and strategies and put them to use within our region … the Niagara Farm Project programs are how we can each both plant and harvest our own efforts.”
More information about the project can be found at niagarafarmproject.ca. Renee Delaney can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org