An Open Letter to Lisa Thompson, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

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by Mannie Giles, local Native chef and producer

I am writing to you to share how invaluable the Kemptville College farmland is to me, and that I believe the Province’s efforts to build a prison in our hometown are completely disconnected from how our community could be best supported. We have opportunities to form action-based responses to multiple ongoing crises, including (but not limited to) housing market inflation, and an unstable/unsustainable global food system, and negative human influenced climate change.

In solidarity with Indigenous communities across this nation, I am challenging current governing bodies to pause and reconsider current methods of “development” implementation. Solutions to age-old urban issues potentially rest within a sustainable rural community model; as a Municipality that has prided itself on being “Green and Growing”, the people of North Grenville are already doing the work as rural and agricultural leaders for Eastern Ontario – through community-reflective events such as the Sustainability Fair, Rural Expo, ongoing grassroots agricultural education, stewardship program development, household and food service waste processing initiatives, clean water projects, and more. The potential to stabilize our local economy and offer support to urban communities through vegetable shares, mealshares, educational opportunities and more, is how I believe our community is best geared to contribute positively to neighbors throughout Eastern Ontario.

How many would benefit from a Community Food Centre in Kemptville, that has the capacity to address healthy sustainable food, Indigenous-led environmental healing, equality, rural housing solutions, and actual, natural community rehabilitation efforts? Our economy is fundamentally rooted in agriculture and natural resources;  yet our community’s college was defunded, techniques and sustainable practices were left to individuals to research and carry on, and the farm lands have sat with unrealized potential for 8 years now, despite efforts to return the farm to the community.

I believe that it is our collective obligation to understand, engage with, and discuss how our community can address the Calls to Action, as put forth by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015.

The implications of constructing a prison over one of our community’s most important agricultural heritage sites begs the question: Who believes that a prison is a logical development for Kemptville anyway? Or, perhaps more importantly,  how can anyone claim that a prison is a MORE worthy investment for the people of Ontario than a genuine effort to rekindle the local economy of producers and chefs? The small, local farms and the families they support, alongside the secondary and tertiary industries that directly result, IS our local economy. Upholding THAT legacy is how I believe we can best respond to ongoing global food insecurity, supply chain shortages, and unsustainable urban population growth.

Consider how many students walked through the doors of the Kemptville College. Both of my parents are KCAT alumni – my father has gone on to build a commercial feed and seed business (Dundas Feed & Seed) that found success in the wake of the region’s most successful commercial farmers. Small farms and producers across Eastern Ontario have gotten the short end of the stick and been systemically underserved, in my opinion. That narrative is changing as we collectively learn about regenerative, sustainable farming practices that are essential to natural resource management and stewardship of living organisms that ARE natural water filtration, waste processing, and food services. Urban developments are inefficient, expensive and inadequate compared to the land’s natural abilities. One can see the environmental impacts that currently applied agricultural practices have had on the landscape when we compare North Dundas to North Grenville. The landscape has been nearly devoid of natural life (North Dundas) via clear-cutting, unnatural drainage, and an excessive use of monocultures. Now, the village of WInchester is looking to expand town water services, however the cause of water scarcity has not been addressed in full. There is an ever-increasing need for natural rehabilitation and diversification efforts to protect the integrity of these formerly diverse agricultural lands, before desert-like conditions are intensified. We have research that with appropriate land stewardship – natural resource management – we can take critical steps to reduce effects of flash flooding, improve water quality, produce diverse and naturally occurring foods, sequester carbon (which improves water retention, filtration and future crop bounty), rehabilitate native species, and have a positive impact on our larger community by realizing the role we play. To do this efficiently, and in a timely fashion, our community needs to be able to offer that knowledge to those who seek it and be supported through the process.

I believe that we have an opportunity to reunite Eastern Ontario as the rural and agricultural society we are, and say YES to proper community consultation; YES to supporting our local farmers and chefs who are the base of a sustainable community; and YES to the option of developing a network of Community Food Centres to serve the established rural and agricultural communities of Eastern Ontario.

It is my hope that the people of North Grenville and SD&G are inspired to come together to assert that we are, in fact, able to respond for ourselves – and that we can not only stimulate our local economies, but empower communities across the nation to stand together, grow together, and protect our collective future.

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