Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dirk Becker's Fight and Grass Farms of Nova Scotia

Dirk Becker and Nicole Shaw's fight to keep their "Urban Farm" has attracted media attention the world over and I've posted about it several times before as I've met Dirk and believe in the principle of what he's doing, to fight for the right to keep his livelihood and grow food in an 'urban' (that's debatable) area on his acreage. While I believe in the rule of law in most cases, I truly believe that this is one worth fighting mostly because if the back handed way that Dirk and Nicole have been dealt with by their local gov't. It's not really any wonder that an activist would then turn around and fight back is it? I'm amazed that he and Nicole didn't take up arms sooner. All the City of Lantzville has done is make folk heroes out of Dirk and Nicole and bring more attention to their cause. The City (a lot of Lantzville is actually rural and not paved) and mayor in particular look like a bunch of bullies. Here are a couple of videos I thought you might find interesting.

The reason I'm still writing about this issue even though we're now 7000km away is that this is a problem that affects everyone in Canada and in the developed world in general. Don't think it happens in Nova Scotia? Steve and I are constantly dismayed and shake our heads when we drive around the beautiful Annapolis Valley at the hundreds of 'grass farms'. That's what we call the rural houses that are surrounded by acres of neatly trimmed lawn and nothing else. No fence, hay fields, sheep, or anything resembling a vegetable garden. Just one small house and 3 acres of grass. There's a nice house on the way to Berwick that I swear has 12 acres of grass all beautifully cross mowed and not an animal in sight. People buy the houses and then sit back to enjoy the peace and quiet of the country, riding the mower for a couple of hours a week and that's fine but what about those of us who want to grow food and can't afford rural property that's suitable for agriculture because of the property prices being driven up by people from the city buying it and then not using it wisely.? What happened to understanding that we are stewards of the land? Isn't there some sort of balance? Don't we recognize where we're heading as a society? Sadly, the answers to these questions and others about our consumerism is mostly 'no' , we don't get it. For the majority of people things like 'Peak Oil' and 'Peak Water' are just topics for discussion amongst us cranks and conspiracy theorists. As long as WalMart has shelves filled with stuff and the grocery store is full of cans and veggies they feel secure and smug in their own little world and think that life will always be like this. They simply don't understand that something like 'peak phosphorous' means commercial growers won't have unlimited fertilizer for their crops so yields will decrease and prices will go up. That affects everyone. We all eat. Well, those of us who can afford it.

We're biased of course because we've experienced this personally when living on Vancouver Island and so we're living here in Nova Scotia now where land is still more affordable so we can provide a better life for our kids and grandchildren. And we love the people here too.

Well, that's my mini rant for today. Watch the videos and comment.


  1. Don't be so quick to judge harshly. There are advantages to grass farmers.

    Firstly, they are our customers. They move closer to our farms and our food production, meaning we don't have to transport food all the way to Halifax for sale. This is what drives the land prices up: access to customers. You can't create a product and then have no one to sell it to.

    Also, they are holding the land in wait. There are four ways land can be held: urban (paved), wilderness, agriculture, and grass farm. Breaking pavement, and clearing forest, are both resource intensive tasks. I am grateful that these people are holding the land in a state that can easily be recovered for agriculture: the land only needs to be tilled. The government spends millions on preserving productive land and these people do it out of their own pocket book.

    I personally am grateful for their patronage, and the stewardship the "grass farmers" have undertaken.

  2. Here's a comment that nick wanted to add but couldn't so I'm passing it along. Also, if you want to follow what evolving with Dirk then facebook friend him and get up to date info.
    But now for Nick...

    wow.... where to start! First off, thanks for this post.... it echo's my feelings exactly....

    To the anon poster, I will address your comment afterwards.

    Thanks Elizabeth for the video's. I actually got a shiver up my spine watching them. It’s amazing how ignorant some people can be about the source of their food. I will definatly be emailing Dirk with some questions, as I would LOVE to be able to start a small/weekend farm, but as he said, and I am SO SURE you are aware, unless you come from money, or a farming background, it is nigh impossible to find land to use/buy. I’ve looking into leasing crown land before but got rather lost, maybe Dirk will have some information on that.

    Now to respond to the Anonymous poster;

    I have to say I completely disagree with you. While I can completely understand that having people nearby to purchase your farm goods, I don’t think it offsets the waste of great land.

    As to your suggestion that there are 4 ways to hold, land, and grass being the most useful... I would have to say IMO that having it as wilderness would be way more beneficial to the environment, and the community instead of having it as grass....

    First off, the forest/wilderness was already cleared to make it ready for the grass, so it already used the resource intensive process you claimed was needed to get it ready for farming.

    Secondly, if it was left in wilderness state it would be way more biodiverse than is if was in grass… how many species does a golf course sustain, maybe a few birds looking for worms? If left in wilderness it would support all sorts of prey and predator species, including deer, bears, rabbits, all of which could be harvested to put food on the table. There is also the non hunted species like owls, eagles, squirrels, ect that could make the wilderness their home. There is also the timber value is left in wilderness. If properly managed and selectively harvested, the wilderness or “woodlot” can produce lumber or wood fuel, without disrupting the ecosystem.

    Thirdly, while I agree that turning concrete into farmland can be a resource intensive project, it can also be turned into a productive garden with minimal effort. All you have to do is look at the urban gardens being created in cities across the continent. All you have to do is build some raised beds, and you can be growing vegetables in no time. The same goes for changing wilderness into farmland, depending on what the land is like, in BC I have seen a wooded area cleared really quickly, just by fencing the area, and adding a few pig. In the time it took 6 piglets to go from weaner to slaughter weight, an acre of wooded area was cleared of most of the under brush. If a few goats were added, all it would have needed was to be logged (no problem getting someone to come clear the wood, and take it away for FREE) the only thing needed to turn it into tillable farm land would be to remove the stumps.

    While I would defiantly prefer to see grass to pavement, I in no way believe that these people could be called stewards in any sense. Now this is just my opinion, by I think anyone who would like to look at acres of neatly manicured lawn, would be pretty quick to subdivide and sell it, if provided the opportunity.



  3. I wholeheartedly agree with your opinion on the grass farms. It's like that in PEI too where we have a small, rustic cabin on 50 acres of woods. I was shocked when the previous owner told me I need to keep the acre or so of the front yard cut because that's what everyone does there. OK, let's think a bit and ask ourselves why? It's a huge waste of fuel. There's nothing prettier than wild flowers and lupins. Sure, cut a spot around the house but why the back 40? Lawnmower rule there. Since we can't be there yet, we have to pay a lot to keep it cut all summer and I was not planning on that extra expense. Can't wait to change this when we move there. Still something pleasant for our neighbours to look at but not all grass. Junk piles are definitely not good to have either. We call them junk farmers and seeing this trash on the prairies is really sad. To be good stewards we have to take care of the land and nourish it and keep it beautiful.

    If you think a bit about it though, would you be happy to have high land values if you also owned a bit of land next to the grass farmers? Try another perspective. Would this be a good thing if you were at the end of your life and could use the money for a nursing home or to pass onto your kids. Maybe it would be worth so much you could sell a bit off and further sustain yourselves. Is it bugging you so much because they have it and you don't? We have to realize that in life we made choices to get us where we are today. Maybe instead of working we had 10 kids so wanted to stay home with them. Maybe we couldn't have kids and worked instead and consequently had the money to buy that grass farm.

    You said people just aren't getting the Peak Oil thing and just go merrily along. I think this too, that people just aren't getting it when they keep popping out kids one after another. If the resources are running out and the world is already overpopulated (Google overpopulation), then how is this a good, solid idea? So, for me, like you think, I just conclude that people are selfish and just want what they want without regard for their neighbour. Nothing against kids, they are wonderful, but require some very serious and long-suffering contemplation. Is it really possible to have it all? And, what does having it all really mean?