Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary
By Suzanne Armstrong, CFFO Director of Research/Manager of Board & Committee Services
“Eat your view” is an expression used to promote local food. Eating local, and protecting farmland to make that possible, ensures populations have access to a “beautiful view” close to home. It is also saying you should consider the landscape that is created by the way your food is produced. Protecting local farmland is important for practical reasons like food security and environmental benefits. But protecting local food production has a much bigger cultural impact.
The importance of a beautiful view may seem frivolous when discussing farming. But we should not underestimate the impact our ideas of nature and beauty have on food production. This comes up in debates about conservation land vs. working farmland, and in debates about windmills interrupting sweeping rural vistas. It is also an important reminder that the experience is as important at the food that goes with it.
Food at its best is about much more than just fuel for our bodies. Food encompasses connection to the landscape in which it was grown, to communities of people who produce, process and eat it, and personal family memories as well. This time of year there are many opportunities in Ontario for agri-tourism, such as fall festivals and farmers’ markets, for celebrating the connection between people, landscape and food.
When I was at my local farmers’ market recently, seeing the abundance before me gave me pause. Each stall had beautifully displayed baskets and bunches of fruits and vegetables, row after row, like a multi-coloured parade, with plenty of shoppers to enjoy the spectacle. I saw two little boys helping their mother and father pack a bag of eggplants as big as they were into the trunk of a car. I would have loved to follow and watch those eggplants turned into a delicious homemade meal and wonderful memories for those little boys. This is truly a family outing, celebrating the season and the joy of food together.
This summer’s art exhibit “The Idea of North”
focused on Group of Seven Lawren Harris’s depictions of the Canadian arctic. Harris includes no life at all, only ice, snow, rocks, sunlight, and bare tree stumps. These iconic images, like other Group of Seven paintings, have influenced Canadian identity, and our perceptions of beauty in nature. They emphasize nature as uninhabited empty space.
This notion of the pristine landscape, preserved without people is still influential today, especially on the push for conservation of “wild” space. Farming, on the other hand, creates a working landscape, one that has natural beauty, but which reflects humans working with nature, ideally to the mutual benefit of both.
Farmland needs to be preserved not just for its aesthetic value, but not just for its ability to produce food and a living for farmers either. We need to have a balance of both. We need to take every opportunity to celebrate connecting nature, food and people, be it working with animals, enjoying a beautiful landscape, or the intoxicating smell of ripe fruit. All of these things remind us why local food and farmland are so important.