When we purchased our farm in 2013, the closing date was in the depths of a true Canadian January winter; nothing looked like the photos of the property we had bought in September! When the spring thaw arrived in 2014, we were finally able to walk the land that came with our over 200-year-old, stone Loyalist farmhouse. As Torontonians, it was daunting to own 118 acres in the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry (SDG) — our stewardship had begun.
As only the fourth owners of Springfield Farm in Apple Hill, the list of types of farming that have happened on our farm is almost as short. There has been dairy, mixed farming, cash crops and now we’re in transition with Canadian Organic Growers to certify our farm as an organic producer of vegetables and fruits. It is somewhat ironic that when you google the acronym for our region, SDG, the first item to appear is the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations Member States.
Our initial thoughts on farming at Springfield Farm were to continue the status quo of tenant farming, which included applying Roundup and other pesticides/herbicides to our fields. But in 2017, it became apparent that our goal to move to organic farming was more urgent and necessary to be in sync with the overarching desire to make Springfield Farm an environmental farm oasis and agritourism destination.
Becoming an environmental farm oasis and agritourism destination
To establish our farm as an agritourism destination, we knew the rolling hills and the chance to wander along the Beaudette River would appeal to visitors. Since 2017, we have worked hard to establish our primary focus on nature, placing 60 acres in the Managed Forest Program, achieving our Farm Environmental Plan, working with the Ontario Soil and Crop Association, as well as putting 20 acres in the ALUS (Alternative Land Use Services) program. As a family of six, we are committed that Springfield Farm not only serves our purpose as farmers, but is also in communion with the hundreds of species that use our farm as their habitat, especially by preserving the windbreaks established more than 100 years ago.
According to the UN SDG #15 entitled Life on Land, “approximately 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction” (2019) brought upon by deforestation, threats to the ecosystems, and human-made climate change. Nothing could have prepared the world in 2020 for the Australian fires that burned out of control devastating habitats which impacted “143 million mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 180 million birds and 51 million frogs” (World Wildlife Fund). In this time of pandemic crisis, the goals put out by the United Nations might seem difficult to achieve as we fight a health threat that produces variants at every medical vaccine development, however, it is imperative that we revisit the SDG goals as they are ethically based, world-encompassing and necessary for the very well-being of all living creatures.
Creating an environmentally focused economy
The knee jerk reaction to any environmentally focused economy is that it is not sustainable nor financially beneficial, especially for small to mid-sized businesses. And yet at this moment, the traditional capitalistic marketplace is shattered – an aggressive-but-not-trustworthy bullish stock market, and the cost of housing increasing rapidly and cost-prohibitive for the majority. COVID-19 has upended many businesses and, in particular, those that hire and have a disproportionate impact on women and middle-to-lower income households. The SDG #8 Decent Work and Economic Growth is focussed on these very issues both during and post COVID-19 economies.
Agritourism is one of the most suitable businesses to address this goal. By definition, agritourism provides a large swath of opportunities for the small to mid-sized farm. From pick-your-own fruit or vegetables, to farm stays and, with the growing desire to eat local, the Field to Table culinary experience is a pivotal opportunity for both farmer and consumer. Employment, education and economic growth opportunities are intrinsically tied into agritourism.
Operating in a community that is aligned with these Sustainable Goals would be ideal, however often work needs to be taken by governments to bring their bylaws and business practices up to date. Governments need to recognize the importance that heeding the environmental calls to action will resonate with the generation who will inherit this world and the economy – like it or not, the accountability is on our shoulders.
And in Apple Hill, we know like the previous owners, our time at Springfield Farm is transient but that does not negate our responsibility as stewards of the land. We have chosen agritourism as it is an economic driver in line with our business plan and those of the SDG. It is, however, not yet fully incorporated by the United Counties of SDG. The region needs to adopt fully what has been on its official plan for eight years– it is not enough to be a farm with a yurt or to host international guests to join in experiencing the beauty of Springfield Farm as they enjoy their morning coffee and scone by the Beaudette River. There needs to be blatant, bold decision-making by all of SDG council members to do what is right for the farmers in the region and for the environment. Decent work is what an honest day’s work on the farm has always been.
Now let’s get farming towards a strong economy, a diverse economy that allows women farmers, such as myself at Springfield Farm, to grow the family farm in a way that will resonate with the next generation. Time to give agritourism a real chance to grow in SDG!