On June 23, the Coalition Against the Proposed Prison (CAPP) held an open online forum titled "Saving the Kemptville College Farm." The event featured three speakers to discuss alternate land uses to the proposed Eastern Ontario Correctional Complex (EOCC), the importance of farmland, and the intersections between food security, environmentalism, and social justice. The event was a testament to the careful and innovative possibilities wielded by a group of concerned citizens, with or without the support of provincial and local governments.
The first speaker for the evening was Phil Mount, director of Just Food. Phil detailed the possibilities for a community farm as an alternate use for the farmland. Phil’s current project, Just Food Community Farm, is a 150-acre community farm located in Gloucester. Inspired by community farms in the UK, Phil and his team use the community farm to offer workshops and hands-on experience with Organic farming methods, and permit members of the community to use the lands to launch their own certified organic farms. Just Food Community Farm contains everything from permaculture to a community food forest, not to mention that it preserves habitat for wild animals and the enjoyment of the local community.
Emma Jane Woods, of Ontario Farmland Trust, offered the second presentation. Emma emphasized that 175 acres of farmland are lost every day in Ontario — a loss that will only be accelerated with Doug Ford’s use of Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs), which allow the province to override municipal councils for faster development. The Ontario Farmland Trust is working to protect farmland. The existing inventory of agricultural land sorts lands according to their suitability for agriculture: the top three levels are considered "prime" agricultural lands. The land on which the EOCC is proposed to be built is on prime agricultural land. This land is necessary to, "maintain the viability of any agricultural system." She said, "Farmland also provides a range of ecosystem services that benefit the surrounding landscape. They can filter and store water, sequester carbon, and provide habitat for wildlife."
The final presenter for the evening, Dr. Ralph Martin, argued that, "today it is necessary to heal income inequality and poverty, land (concrete free land), and relationships with indigenous people." His presentation demonstrated that these are not separate concerns. Explaining that, "farmland is the foundation of a sustainable food system," Ralph built on Emma’s presentation to explain that as the climate continues to change, ‘prime’ agricultural lands are the ones that will yield the most stable crops. Yet, as Colleen Lynas noted in the discussion, it is our own province "paving over our arable lands."
Ralph went on to note that recently, "Bill C-15 was passed to harmonize Canada’s laws with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And it affirms rights of Indigenous people to self-determination, their language, culture, and traditional lands. It clarifies the need for free, prior, and informed consent from Indigenous peoples on anything that infringes on their lands or rights." There is no treaty between the Canadian Government and the Algonquin peoples for the former Kemptville College lands: this is to say the land is unceded, and Bill C-15 is not currently being respected.
The painful irony of the situation, as Ralph pointed out, is that though Indigenous peoples make up 5% of the Canadian population, they are about 30% of prisoners. One of the reasons behind this disproportionate incarceration circles back to Ralph’s first point: the loss of connection between Indigenous people and their traditional lands directly produces poverty and food insecurity, factors that put any group at risk of participating in crime. How to heal this situation? Perhaps we could look toward Just Food Community Farm as an example.
During an open question period, audience member Nadia Gray applauded the, "concerted efforts" of CAPP and the speakers for the evening, but wondered about the practical methods of having these efforts recognized by higher levels of government. Ralph replied that governments do tend to, "respond very well to public pressure." The power of CAPP is that it is truly a coalition: the interests of a conservative farmer are reflected alongside the issues of prison abolition.
Dr. Justin Piché, Professor of Criminology at the University of Ottawa, reassured the group that though North Grenville’s municipal government is using language to lead the public to believe the prison is inevitable, no contracts will be signed until 2023. There are municipal and provincial elections before then. He said, "this is not a done deal, far from it. It’s too bad that your municipality has positioned itself in this way, but you can still win."
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Rachel Everett-Fry, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Grenville Times