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Acadia University scholars share their thoughts on sustainability in farming

An aerial shot of the Acadia campus
An aerial shot of the Acadia campus - Contributed

ANNAPOLIS VALLEY, N.S. - The 2016 Census of Agriculture counted 3,478 census farms in Nova Scotia in 2016. Of these farms, roughly 31 per cent (1072) were located within the counties that make up the Annapolis Valley – Hants, Kings, and Annapolis.

While the census, conducted every five years, shows there was a decrease in the total number of farms in the Annapolis Valley of 9.92 per cent from 2011 to 2016, it also shows that the farms themselves have increased slightly in size by an average of 1.26 acres per farm.

The census also shows that the area dedicated to cropland in the Annapolis Valley increased by 3.14 per cent from 105,723 acres in 2011, to 109,042 acres in 2016.

While this data is able to help give a glimpse into how well farms in the Annapolis Valley have been doing, in terms of their size and numbers, there are many factors that play into determining how well farms are able to sustain themselves on a yearly basis.

While some factors, such as weather, are harder for the average person to have an impact on, there is much that can be done at the individual, community, and government levels to help ensure the farms that feed us are able to continue doing so for years to come.

Dr. Edith Callaghan, a professor at Acadia University with scholarly interests and expertise in areas associated with business, sustainability, food, and community, says she feels that one way of working towards ensuring the sustainability of farming in the Annapolis Valley – and Nova Scotia in general – lies in the interconnectivity of departments of agriculture, environment and education.

“My feeling is we have to start thinking really carefully about what we do with land,” she said.

“And the Department of Agriculture has a role in that – how do we deal with our agricultural land?”

“Now, that being said, the Department of Agriculture also has to work very closely with the Department of Environment, because if the Department of Environment is in charge of looking at natural resources and what is happening with our forests, etc., then they have to be in tight co-ordination with each other.”

Callaghan added that the Department of Education can play a key role in ensuring the sustainability of farms in co-ordination with the Department of Agriculture, especially through working to educate others around agriculture as a viable career path for those who wish to work and live in Nova Scotia.

“We want to keep kids in Nova Scotia when they grow up instead of everybody moving away, then let’s make agriculture a viable future for them,” said Callaghan.

“And I don’t mean like a farmer working with the old-style hoe, and not that there’s anything wrong with that, but there are also very interesting technological innovations happening in agriculture, but we need to support that, and the Department of Agriculture, again, is the one to do that, and maybe in co-ordination with the Department of Education.”

Dr. Alan Warner, a professor at Acadia University with scholarly interests in areas associated with sustainable food systems, community development, and environmental education, cites some examples of what can be done on the individual and community levels to help ensure the sustainability of local farms.

“Encouraging people to appreciate what the impacts are on the food they’re eating and make better choices in the store is one way,” said Warner.

“If individuals make conscientious choices, they’re going to buy better food (and) then there’s going to be money in better food. So, individuals can make a difference in that regard.”

At the community level, Warner points out that a great way to support farmers is through supporting farmers’ markets.

“We can do a lot of things as a community; we can encourage farmers’ markets like the Wolfville Market, which is great, that’s one of the more sophisticated markets in the province,” said Warner.

“We can put systems in place at a policy level to encourage communities to have markets, and if we have market, then there’s going to be more emphasis for farmers to be able to sell their produce.”

Read the entire BACK ON THE FARM SERIES: A collection devoted to a vital industry in the Annapolis Valley:

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