the agritect

@VELD architect, southwestern Ontario

Archive for February, 2012

Farm Community & Culture

The world is becoming very multi-cultural and globally connected. The scale of communities is drastically changing. How can rural maintain a distinct culture and connected community.  If we look back at the farming community it has traditionally be centered around a few key pieces of infrastructure. For example the Church or the School or the Feed Mill. If we look at what that looks like in the diagram below you can see that in 1878 in Middlesex County there are many schools and churches and feed mills and the scale of the community is approximately 2km radius.

1878n Middlesex County, copyright Krista Duynisveld 2008

Now clearly this is due to the limits of transportation (horse and buggy) as well as density in population in rural areas (average farm size of 100acres).  But these three buildings provided clear centres for community to gather, meet, exchange information, build relationships and support each other.  The life of a farmer can be isolated and difficult without the support of neighbours and friends. Neighbours help each other out and provide advice and information for other farmers. In the past these things happened via the architecture of the Church, School, and Feed Mill.

Over the past 130 years alot has changed.  The average farm size has grown (800 acres), the population density of the rural landscape has decreased, the truck is our form of transportation.  This has dramatically changed the landscape.  If we look at Middlesex County in 2008 we can see the average community radius is 10km around the nearest church, school or feed mill.

Middlesex Community 2008, copyright Krista Duynisveld 2008

Approximately 80% of the schools and 50% of the churches have disappeared. Without going into the religion discussion, we can all acknowledge that church attendance has declined. So how does the rural community maintain connections, share information and gather in today’s world? The rural community is being streched to a scale which threatens its unique culture and ties that bind it together.

What is the architectural building that connects us today? Could it be that knowledge and experience is shared via social media? Is this a way to connect with your neighbour everyday and keep up in our busy world? Are shared facilities a way to maintain community, like shared bio-digesters, compost piles, or tractors? How do you maintain a good community connection with your neighbour and how could it be enhanced?

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Farm Size Infographic

The following infographic describes the average size of farm in Canada, taken from stats Canada.

copyright, VELD architect 2008

The Desirable Food System : 2025

In November, I attended a discussion on Sustainable Food Systems the Arts and Cookery Bank(a great venue and enterprise) in West Lorne. Hosted by Roxana Roshon and Tom Schell and the London Training Centre working on an amazing research project on Food Systems. They are taking an cross-system (rather than silo) approach to their research looking at everything from producers’ to feed sales’ to processors and distributor’ economics’ sustainability’ technology’ to the consumer.

One of the main activities of the day was to describe food systems. The room was broken up into groups by age’ young’ middle age’ and senior/retired. The retired group shared stories of what the food system looked like “back-in-the-day”, describing butchering the calf under the apple tree, or getting the fresh milk delivered to the door each day. They described a system that was complex in relationships and simple in worries. But can imagine plowing with a horse?

The middle-aged group are the group who are currently managing and operating our food system. They made up the majority of the room and they described a number of value chains; cash crops, poultry, and beef. Their system was also simple, but in a different way. The middle man distributed such as a feed mill moved goods to consumers and money to producers; simple, right? But we seems to have lost the human touch described by the retired group.

And then there was the new generation; full of hopes and dreams looking to answer the question of ‘what is the desirable food system in 2025’? I happy to be considered young and not middle aged, but after starting our discussion I realized how hard this question was going to be to answer. Our group was made up of two economic developers, one engineer, someone representing immigration, a future producer, and myself. We all had our dreams for a sustainable vision; no dependance on oil, conserve energy, educate the public and producers, and communication lines between all parties involved. We all had our private agendas, use renewable energy, generate economic growth, create a better living for farmers, create access to healthy and inexpensive foods for everyone, etc. And every idea was faced with challenges and difficulties.

After the 5 minute warning we still didn’t have much on the paper in front of us, but we had great visions and ideas.

1. We started with defining ‘sustainable’ as something that can be maintained over long periods of time.

2. Then a sustainable food system was not to rely on oil, starting with reducing energy,  then generating renewable energy.

3. It was then was a matter of communication.  How to get all parties involved, consumers, farmers, processors, suppliers, educated about sustainable practices in the communities and get them talking to each other to create a better system and share information.

As simple as three steps! What is your ideal food system for 2025? How do you contribute to a sustainable food system?