Friday 26 October 2012

Pioneering Renaissance

There's a disheartening irony to the fact that the number of people farming has dropped dramatically for decades.
The farmers are leaving and so are their children.
You would think that with the local food movement underway that there would be lots of people to take over for the families that are leaving the farms.
The irony is that while farming is unpopular as an occupation, the farm land is highly sought after.
And that excludes many of the aspiring new farmers because the prices are normally beyond the reach of young people starting out.

I do hate to disparage the folks who have bought up farms to enrich their lives, but in most cases, the properties become hobby farms for pets and horses.
I've read blogs where people wax romantic about beautiful walks on their two hundred acre farm, which in most cases is left fallow to be enjoyed as a private agricultural reliquary.
Often it is a professional couple who both work and have no children who have the financial resource to buy up the vacant farms.
Some choose to farm the land; many do not.

In the mining sector, you cannot hoard valuable land for long without extracting resource.
Claims must be followed through or they expire after some time.
This ensures that natural resources continue to add to the nation's GDP and that land does not sit idle.
One day, this same regulation style may be necessary for farmland to keep arable land in rotating production.
Until then, there is another solution.

Land that is north of the Canadian Shield line is notoriously rough, rocky, and desolate.
There are pockets of farmland in use, but most of the rugged north is barren of settlement and food production.
land is much more affordable.
The trade-offs are consistent.

Small communities.
Few jobs.
Even fewer good paying jobs.
Infertile land.
Biting flies.
Sparse market opportunities.
Short growing season.
Minimal agricultural infrastructure.

Although, you would be surprised by the number of old farmsteads that dot the near north.
It's just that people gave up trying to farm the land years ago.

The disparity between central and southern Ontario is considerable.
It is however, important to consider more than just the differences within Ontario.
Consider how we differ from the rest of the world.
A little research will show you that most of the world survives in less than perfect places.
One of the great advantages that North America owes it's status to is the fact that much of the continent is excellent for food production.

Back in shield country you will notice that despite the apparent lack of fertility,
trees and plants and animals thrive in abundance.
So why couldn't the land be made to grow food for us?
The problem has been trying to transfer agricultural methods from the south to the north.
It simply isn't the same land and cannot be farmed in exactly the same way.
When markets were more restrictive due the the limited culinary preferences of the U.K. immigrants, it was difficult to sell unusual produce.
Now that our population is more diverse and the collective palate has moved well beyond english staples, there is the opportunity to cultivate produce that best suits the land instead of growing produce that best suits the markets.
Coupled with easier access to global agricultural methods and cultivars, the options for bringing marginal lands into production have multiplied.

Even though the government is no longer giving land away, there remains a viable direction for the pioneering spirit.
The challenge is coping with the financial demands that come with the western standard of living.
Keep in mind that the cost of living is lower once you get beyond the shield line.
That is especially true if your mortgage is one-third of what it might be living in southern Ontario.

If you wish you could have been a settler,
moving into shield country comes with far fewer risks than those brave souls faced hundreds of years ago.
Start by looking at the real estate listings.
Look at the prices and features.
Forget about job propects for now.
You are not looking for a career.
You are looking for a lifestyle.

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