Canadian parks could grow food, too

In Canada’s national and provincial parks small-scale agriculture and forests can exist side by side – and maybe even benefit from one another.

Design Pics/Newscom/File
Aspens line a meadow in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. For a century, Canada's national and provincial parks have had untapped potential for small-scale agriculture.

Forestry and agriculture were once seen as two mutually exclusive functions of land, with the presence of one meaning the total absence of the other. Ecologists saw the development and cultivation of farmland as a force working against their attempts to preserve valuable tracts of untouched land.

But now, in many of Canada’s national and provincial parks, specialists are realizing that small-scale agriculture and forestry can exist side by side – and that they may even benefit from one another. Forests help protect crops from pest infestations and the spread of airborne plant diseases. In turn, agriculture helps contribute to forests’ sustainability by providing food for nearby populations.

This is especially true for forests located on the outskirts of urban areas, where locally grown food can be brought to market with very low transportation costs.

Parks Canada, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, has decided to convert Rouge Park into an urban national park. It will cover 4,700 hectares [11,600 acres] of land, stretching from Lake Ontario in the south to two towns nearly 35 kilometers [22 miles] north. One thousand hectares [2,470 acres] of this has been set aside for agriculture, according to Alan Wells, chair of the Rouge Park Alliance.

Of particular importance, this area is just northeast of the Greater Toronto region, making it an ideal choice for farmers who want to help feed the city.

Better yet, some of this designated farmland will be available to community garden projects and small farming operations. There are also collaborations under way with FarmStart, a nonprofit Canadian organization whose mission is to support a new generation of small farmers.

Already, FarmStart has a 20-hectare [49 acre] incubator farm on lease in Rouge Park, where, for up to five years, farmers can stay, work, and learn holistic methods of raising crops.

According to the FarmStart website, “The goal of the New Farmers Incubator Program is to foster the development of fully independent and sustainable agricultural enterprises that supply local markets.”

Canada currently has 42 national parks and hundreds of provincial parks, many of which have enormous potential for the development of sustainable agriculture.

Kamaria Greenfield is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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This article originally appeared at Nourishing the Planet, a blog published by the Worldwatch Institute.

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