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The Land that Feeds

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Issue: 70 Section: Agriculture Geography: Atlantic Nova Scotia Topics: food security, farming

August 2, 2010

The Land that Feeds

Rural community divided over proposal to rezone farmland

by Steven Wendland

Community groups are fighting the proposal, arguing that Nova Scotia needs to protect its farmland for future generations of farmers. Photo: Melissa Kelly

GREENWICH, NS—A proposal to rezone 380 acres of active farmland in the hamlet of Greenwich, Kings County, has raised public concern over food security, cultural history, and sustainable community-planning in Nova Scotia’s fertile Annapolis Valley.

“Removing the agricultural district zoning will take away the Greenwich farms that helped build Kings County,” says Tom Cosman, a Greenwich honey farmer who believes the proposal is short-sighted.

“In a world with an ever-increasing population, the looming threat of peak oil, and shrinking farmlands, it is destructive to allow the loss of this agricultural resource,” says honey farmer Tom Cosman. Photo: Steven Wendland

In August 2009, five Greenwich landowners submitted an application to Kings Council proposing an amendment to the Kings County Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS) and Land-Use Bylaw which would allow the involved agricultural lands to be rezoned for residential, commercial or industrial purposes—a Comprehensive Development District (CDD), as the MPS labels it.

The proposal roused an immediate outcry from several Greenwich residents who want to preserve the fertile farmland.

“The proposed development is intended to remove almost 75 per cent of Greenwich’s prime agricultural lands, which the current owners themselves claim to have been farmed for 700 years collectively,” states Marilyn Cameron, a Greenwich resident and active member of No Farms, No Food, a community coalition devoted to the protection and preservation of Nova Scotia farmland.

Three of the five landowners own, operate, and supply three popular farm markets in Greenwich, and their businesses form the core of the community’s identity. No Farms, No Food have accused the landowners of selfishly disregarding their responsibilities to the community and stewardship of the land.

Doug Hennigar, a fruit and vegetable farmer and owner of one of the farm markets, believes those residents are unwilling to accept the reality of his situation. “My soil could be considered prime if we were only talking about Nova Scotia, but globalization has put my land in competition with soils from all over the world. I have to compete with farmers from countries that have better soils, longer growing seasons, cheaper labour, and high government subsidies,” he relates.

In the global competition for Nova Scotians’ food dollar, local farmers are losing out. A report released Tuesday by the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, in collaboration with the Ecology Action Centre, found that for every dollar spent on food in the province in 2008, Nova Scotian farmers got 13 cents. “The study examined over 60 products and found that, on average, the food products were traveling nearly 4,000 km from farm to plate,” says Marla MacLeod, co-author of the report entitled Is Nova Scotia Eating Local?

This needs to change, says MacLeod, who believes the province should prioritize food security and food sovereignty. “I think it’s important to retain the capacity to grow our own food here,” says MacLeod, who argues that a local agriculture system has environmental, social, economic and health benefits. “It doesn’t make any sense to depend on everyone else in the world to feed us.”

Given the significant public opposition to the proposed amendment, many Kings County residents are irate that Kings Council used $36,000 in taxpayer money to have consulting firm Environmental Design and Management Ltd. (EDM) process the contentious application. The resultant 20-page EDM report was submitted to the Kings Planning Advisory Committee in May 2010—it recommended that the “subject site be made available for development by creating a CDD and designating the area a new Growth Centre.”

Hennigar says those opposed to the proposal are simply afraid of change. “They’re trying to preserve an agricultural past that is dead—they want to make this place an agricultural museum. We need to balance high-paying business opportunities while also preserving our best farmland. We’re an aging population, and we can’t have a successful regional agriculture if we don’t have a variety of solid employment opportunities for our youth.”

MacLeod believes that farming, given proper support, could be a viable and sustainable employment opportunity for youth. “There are young people interested in farming, and interested in doing it differently,” she says, pointing to new models like Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) and direct marketing.

MacLeod says we need to support people who are farming now, and invest in programs that promote mentorship and learning for young and new farmers. She believes a long-term view is needed: “once you’ve built over land, you can’t get it back,” adding that Nova Scotia will need that land to feed itself in the future.

“In a world with an ever-increasing population, the looming threat of peak oil, and shrinking farmlands, it is destructive to allow the loss of this agricultural resource,” says Cosman.

Tensions were recently heightened in Greenwich when, on July 6, 2010, Kings Council voted to rezone 167.5 acres of prime farmland in the neighbouring village of Port Williams for residential purposes.

Council’s motion has led to a redoubling of opposition efforts in Greenwich. “If the present owners don’t want to farm that land, it should be banked for farmers that do,” says Cameron.

If the application for rezoning continues to move forward, two readings at Council and a public hearing will be necessary before it is handed over to the provincial Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, Ramona Jennex, for final approval. Jennex would then have 60 days to either reject or approve Council’s motion to develop the farmland.

Regardless of the outcome, farmers need more support if land is going to be protected in the future, says MacLeod. “In many cases [the land is sold] to help fund farmers’ retirement plans,” she says.

MacLeod asserts that if farmers had pensions, extended health care plans, and a viable income, they’d have more options when they stopped farming—and more people interested in picking up where they left off.

“Put your energy into protecting the farmer and you’ll automatically protect the farmland,” says Hennigar. “Farmers only make up about 1.5 per cent of the Canadian population—we need help and support from the public.”

Steven Wendland is a writer, vegetable gardener and filmmaker from Harmony, Nova Scotia.

With files from Hillary Lindsay.

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Maybe it's time for the land

Maybe it's time for the land trust model to expand to include farmland. Does it do this already? Anybody know?

Community Land Trusts

In Nova Scotia at least one land trust is in existence to protect farmland: The Tatamagouche Community Land Trust. This model should spread!

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