Growing Pains: More Land Please!

We need more land, it’s a fact. It wasn’t long ago that we moved to our 4.5 acre spread and marveled at all the space we had, but that time has come and gone. Tipsy Toad Grove has officially reached maximum capacity. This might be ok except for one small factor – we’ve decided that eventually we are destined to farm for real. No matter how we slice and dice it, that can’t happen with our current piece of land.

As a preliminary exercise I’ve started to size up what’s available. We figure 40 or 50 acres is a bare minimum for the lofty goals in our heads. A property that already has suitable buildings would be even better. Reality is disheartening, though… there just doesn’t seem to be much out there.

The news is full of stories about orphaned farms. Farmers retire and their kids want nothing to do with working the land. One would surmise that this translates into a glut of property on the market. And indeed, the property is there, but it’s not available at a price any up-and-coming farmer could ever hope to get her hands on. It’s not hard to understand why – the property is marketed to two types of people: rich horse people, and developers. Potential for subdivision is often front and center as far as features go. New farmers don’t stand a chance.

While I don’t deny horse people or developers the right to own land or make a living, I do find it troublesome that agricultural land can be turned into building lots with little more than a price tag standing in the way. The current provincial government claims to support agriculture and sustainable farming through initiatives like the Farm Loan Board and ThinkFarm. Such programs are all well and good, but if there’s no land left to farm how can they possibly make any difference at all? A 99-acre farm just up the road has a “sale pending” sign in the field, and already there are orange survey stakes clearly defining what appear to be lots. One more piece of agricultural land that will never see a plow again.

The government seems to have plenty of money to prop up big business and yet one after another towns in Nova Scotia are losing those industries and jobs. In the meantime, small farmers are cropping up and struggling to create jobs (a few at a time, but they’re still jobs), while contributing to a healthy trend towards locally and environmentally sustainably produced food. Why isn’t something being done to enable small farmers to make that leap?

It’s time the government stepped back and protected the things that matter. Instead of pumping money into big businesses that demand more and more and then leave when times get tough, how about supporting smaller enterprises that have a stake in local communities? I’d like to see the government take some of that cash and use it to buy up farm properties as they come on the market. By creating a “Farm Bank”, the province could lease or sell agricultural lands back to upstart farmers at a slightly subsidized price and put agreements in place that the Farm Bank would have first option to buy back the land at a comparable price when the farmer is done with it. Such a program would ensure that agricultural land will be protected and available to help feed and employ Nova Scotians for years to come.

If we don’t protect our ability to produce wholesome and fresh food now, the time may come when we find ourselves at the mercy of produce and meat trucked from California, New Zealand and Mexico. Personally, that’s not an option I find very palatable.

Now where’s my damn farm?!?

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