By Keith Roulston
One of the stories you are most apt to see on television any day of the week is about the high cost of groceries. If people think it’s bad now, wait a few years as our soaring population causes us to pave over thousands of acres of farmland to accommodate new residents.
The federal government has increased immigration to meet a greater number of job vacancies, especially because more and more people are retiring. Meanwhile the provincial government keeps taking land out of the Greenbelt around Toronto, so there’s room for these new residents to find a home. Meanwhile the cost of rental housing in Toronto skyrockets so that many people must sleep in the streets because they can’t afford the rent.
Both governments are headed by urban-oriented leaders. Like the majority of our citizens, for them food has always been there – and they think, always will be. We have lived in a world of plenty when it comes to food. We grow a huge amount and augment it with enormous amounts imported from elsewhere to the south.
But you can’t continue to have the population boom and feed people on thousands of fewer acres each year. And ignoring the problem year after year, as our leaders – federal and provincial – have been doing, is only going to make the issue worse.
Most of Canada is not blessed with bountiful farmland as southern Ontario is. New urban development could be accomodated around North Bay, Sudbury or Sault Sainte Marie without endangering the future of our food supply, but it’s easier to direct immigrants to Toronto, London and Windsor and pave more food-growing land for their housing.
We are paying the price for greater ignorance about rural life and it’s benefit to urbanites by growing the food they need, that comes with a decline in rural influence. Like many things in life, when you have a lot of something, you take it for granted. As long as there’s food in the store, the only thing people worry about is the price – which they always think is too expensive.
In the half-century I’ve covered the farm scene. I’ve witnessed the decline of the farm voice. When I went to the local Federation of Agriculture’s MPs/MPPs dinner in the early 1970s, there were two provincial representatives. Now there’s one, and she covers half of Bruce County as well as Huron.
Of course in those days, there was also a farm family with three or four kids on most farms. On our road now, nearly all the houses have been separated from land farmed by large operators who grow crops on thousands of acres. Even where the family farm remains, usually the farmer is nearing retirement.
Back in the 1960s when I was just becoming aware of the local newspaper scene, most newspapers were run by people who spent part of the week doing printing and the rest of the week publishing the local newspaper. Changing printing technology led many to sell their newspapers to a chain publisher with a big rotary press that could print many newspapers in a 24-hour period rather than one over several days of printing on an old flat-bed press.
But the new publishers got old and sold their newspapers and presses to larger, urban-based publishers who were confronted by readers who depended on newspapers less for news. Newspapers cut staff and coverage, and therefore attracted even fewer readers.
While the decline of local newspapers does not affect the food supply, I fear the lessons we can learn are apt. While life can go on without local news coverage it will mean even less attention paid to the farm scene. Less attention means taking the food we have for granted and not understanding that if we lose farmland we can soon be short of food. And then the land is gone and can’t be replaced.◊