My hometown is Stony Plain. It is a great town, progressive, beautiful and welcoming: A place that honours the past and has no fear of the future.
I love to go back to visit with my family and friends. I can stand in one spot for hours and simply talk to folks as they pass by or drop in on a favourite business, eat at special spots or make dates with school friends, walk the many trails with grandchildren or go to church. It is all a part of that rural comfort that keeps folks coming home.
This fall I met my son from Montreal there, and we took our time walking and talking about the past and the future. He shared how the culture there differed from his life now. I shared my deep concern regarding the development of land, some of the best soil in the world, for housing and industry.
As we walked the paths we identified where gardens instead of grass could grow and where lighting was wasted or absent. Idling cars on a warm day gave him sorrow as his belief that we all do our part was challenged and I lamented on the once open fields that I had ridden my childhood pony on that were now covered by residential homes. We talked of the environment and of politics, social justice, family and our future dreams.
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These subjects are intertwined as they come back to the foundation we were standing on: Soil. As we lose soil that once was producing food, there is a pressure to create more from less. This has an environmental impact as does the fact that dark-roofed houses, street lights, pavement, furnaces, carpets and a host of other things related to progress are heavy emitters.
Our family started with the soil and hopes to finish with it but as the population grows, the soil that is needed is sifted away. As we walked and drove the area, the best of the soil was being stripped. That does not bode well for our future. A future generation will ask the current one, which has never encountered hunger, what we were thinking.
If the definition of social justice is, in part, ‘a prosperous coexistence,’ then mankind has failed miserably.
Where are the trees? This was one of the questions as we walked and drove, as shelterbelts were removed for development. Where are the streams? And what of that creek that used to flood our lane each spring? It now held a trickle of water, interrupted at every juncture by social irresponsibility.
Huge homes on lighted streets do not reflect the prosperity of a nation. Nutritional security is a measure, education is a measure, and environmental respect is a measure of prosperity where all systems can work in collaboration. We cannot destroy one to make another and expect to have our future needs met. The soil to grow food needs to stay intact.
Your roots, my roots and your urban neighbours’ roots are firmly grounded in soil. Our future is under our feet. In the capital region where my son and I stood, 97,090 hectares of land were lost to residential development and industry between 2000 and 2012. This is especially concerning considering less than four per cent of the land base in the province is Class 2.
As the pressure grew on local farms to sell out, other farmers were converting land from pasture to make up for the difference. In the same period, 1,379,300 hectares in the Edmonton to Calgary corridor were converted from pasture to cropland. The current land use policy that suggests the “maintenance and diversification of Alberta’s agricultural industry” is not policy enough.
The in-vogue term is eco-grief — grieving for the natural world that once was, grieving for her food, her climate stability and for her refuge. In taking away or fragmenting the foundation of civilization, soil, mankind can unknowingly feel as stripped as those once productive fields.
This is not just a problem in my hometown or in Alberta, this is a challenge in every inch of the globe in which populations grow. In the U.S., three acres of cropland are lost to development every minute. Each year urban expansion eats up between 1.8 per cent and 2.4 per cent of global cropland.
Today there is enough to eat — but that is today. Preserving highly productive soil is critical for tomorrow. If not, the very thing that progress seems to treasure — those big yards and mowed open spaces, will be in the shadow of vertical farms and large food distribution warehouses. Food will cost more.
Honouring land for the production of food should be reflected in an integrated and collaborative economic, food, agricultural and environmental policy. The interconnection with food security is created when local, provincial or collective thought sees this value and creates a culture of food based on the foundation of soil preservation.
We cannot have peace without food. We cannot have security without food. We cannot be without food. The soil is our future.