National and provincial parks bordering Canada’s most populous cities are making an innovative addition to the list of activities allowed on protected land: farming.
Once elbowed off the land by ecologists bent on locking up massive tracts for the restoration of waterways, woodlands and wildlife habitats, farmers are now being invited back by conservation agencies that have come to view growing food as key to their sustainability. Momentum is particularly strong among parks near urban regions with strong local-food economies.
In the Greater Toronto Area, for example, some vegetable farmers can grow intensively enough on small plots during the summer – selling to nearby restaurants, market customers and small distributors – that they don’t have to take off-farm jobs in winter. Instead, they concentrate on building up their market base.
But that kind of success hinges on one crucial factor: access to land. Finding affordable farm space amid sprawling urban hubs is a nightmare.
“There’s no way a new farmer would buy land in a near-urban area to farm. You could never get that kind of capital to lay out,” said Christie Young, executive director of a non-profit organization that trains new farmers and supports their enterprises, most of which are designed for near-urban compatibility.
“We’re not talking about … 300-acre farms,” Ms. Young said. “Fruits and vegetables that are better off fresh-picked and brought to market on the same day – that’s what we should be doing.”