the agritect

@VELD architect, southwestern Ontario

Archive for rural culture

An Alternative Solution to Farm Severances

Surplus Farmhouse

Most farmers have encountered the restrictions in farm severances that have been enforced over the past years.  This planning policy requires that farms must be a minimum of 100 acres (40 hectares). And the result is that farmers have been unable to sever surplus houses from farms they purchase. As with most policy it is like a pendulum, swinging from extremes until it comes to equilibrium. I believe its times to come to equilibrium with alternative planning policy.

But first some background. This planning policy was put into place to protect farmland from being cut up and carved into for non-farmer estate lots. It was also there to protect “the right to farm” and keep neighbourly relations in rural areas in tact as non-farmers moved into these houses.

Advantages:

  • farmland parcels remain large for viable farming operations,
  • farmers maintain the “right to farm” without too much complaining from non-farm neighbours
  • protects options for the future of farming for both large and small operations

Disadvantages:

  • surplus farmhouses get torn down and degrade through unsuccessful rental agreements
  • the rural municipal tax base is significantly reduced as farmhouses disappear
  • the rural neighborhood becomes more fragmented and isolated as neighbors become further and further apart
  • the rural heritage of the farmhouse architecture is quickly being lost
  • deed restrictions can disrupt succession planning for farm families.

As you can see there have been some unintended consequences to this planning policy. So what can we do about it now? And quickly before it’s too late? Some municipalities are allowing severances where the farmhouse is additional to the farm operation. This allowance may involve combining lots into larger 200 acre parcels, but not always.  This is a mediocre temporary solution, but is does not maintain the original intent of the policy to maintain 100 acre parcels for farming operations, nor the flexibility of smaller parcels. It also will start to further isolate farmers and fragment farm communities.

My solution comes at this problem from a slightly different angle. I believe that long-term land leases are an alternative solution. It is a practice that has been around in Europe’s major cities for many years as monarchies, government, and wealthy families have typically owned the majority of the land in cities and have prevented the general public from land ownership, but allowed home ownership on this land. Essentially a landowner could provide a long term lease (100yrs) that would give a renter/homeowner confidence and surety to invest in the house with the ability to sell the lease and get their investment back as they would with a house in town or small lot. I believe that this solution can take care of most of the advantages and disadvantages listed above. It would also maintain the 100 acre plot for future farming. This would give a person reason to look after and existing farmhouse, or build new and increase the rural tax base. The lease agreement would need to address a number of issues, such as the “right to farm”, the right of first refusal, shotgun terminations, options to renew, etc.

This idea involves a number of industry reforms, but policy is the venue to undertake these reforms and creates demand for related services and products. The following industries have surfaced as roadblocks during my research and implementation of this theory.

Planning Policy – currently limits the length of lease to a maximum of 21 years without an option to auto renew at the end.  This is clearly not long enough to give any renter/homeowner confidence to maintain or invest in a property. Thus this is where the policy would need to change to start the reform from the top down.

Mortgages & banking – as of right now mortgages or difficult to obtain for houses on leased land. Banks don’t like to be the second on a mortgage (after the farm mortgage holder), nor do they like seizing an entire farm (they are not in the business of looking after livestock or land while they wait to sell). The amortization period is also limited to 5 years less that the time remaining on the lease (ie a maximum amortization of 16 years with a 21 year lease).

Real Estate – long term leases are not something the industry is familiar with in North America. The value of leases is not understood and could be considered risky without education. However this type of real estate is prolific in Europe, especially England and could be adopted here learning from their system and years of experience.

Reform will take work from the bottom up and the top down, so consider this next time you buy another farm with a house on it. Don’t tear down the house until you consider your options.

Please feel free to contact me for more information, if you want to help with this movement, present it to your municipality, or try it out yourself.

 

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Rural Revitalisation Idea #2 : farmer retirement village

BEFORE

BEFORE

I’m sure you’ve heard it before from a farmer, If I retire I’ll die.  Those farmers just don’t know how to take a day off, let alone retire. Not to mention that most farmers don’t want to move to town. So what options are left? move in with you on the home farm?!? If you’re looking for an alternative, this might be it.  Prince Andrew public elementary school in Bryanston has been empty for many years. It is prime time for someone to adaptively reuse this building.  The school is home to the annual fireworks, soccer and basketball games, the annual bike rodeo, and many more events. Image retiring to a place that is still full of life, located in the county, and has community and assistance. The school is a typical 60’s school that taught junior kindergarteners to grade 8. That’s 10+ living units, plus a library or new community hall, and even a gym for those who like to dance!  The location is also ideal, on Highbury Avenue, it’s less than 15 minutes to London for groceries, doctor’s appointments, etc. and not too far away from the grand kids! In fact the property has baseball fields and soccer fields so there is room to kick them out of the house to run around when they stay the weekend, and entertainment during the dull summer weeknights! A little TLC, vision, and an operator could make this a great place for the farmers to retire to. And I’m sure this is not the only elementary school that no longer has a purpose in life.

AFTER

AFTER

Part of the Rural Revitalization Ideas Series, exploring rural revitalization projects.  Feel free to contact me, VELD architect if your interested in pursuing one of these ideas!

Greenhorn’s Green Dreams

sustainable farm proposal

Woven Lea Farm – the ideal sustainable farm proposal – VELD architect 2008

4 years ago my brother made a deal with his environmental professor at Ridgetown Agriculture college.  In exchange for guest lecture in her class about my thesis work, he was allowed to skip class to come to my architecture thesis defense. He agreed on my behalf so each year in October I make the trek down to Ridgetown to give a lecture on my thesis work.

I wouldn’t say I am the most eloquent, or engaging of lecturers, but at least I try to be interesting and passionate. But kids these days… they stare at me blankly pretending to listen and love it when I finish early! But each year there are a few that make it worth while. They come up to me after tell me they thought that is was really cool and they make my trip worth while.

The most interesting observation about these kids who are very engaged in my lecture is they tend to be “wanna-be” farmers.  Kids who did not grow up on farms, but have a passion and desire to be involved in the agriculture industry. I think this is because the farm kids already have an idea about what a farm “looks” like and how it’s “supposed” to operate. They come to my lecture with preconceived notions about farming. I’ve been in their shoes, it took me a long time in my thesis work to “get over” my baggage about what farming had to be. The wanna-be farmers love my presentation because they have passion for farming because their idea of farming is a lot like my thesis project, sustainable, in harmony with nature, and energy-efficient. Is it wrong to expect the ideal, or aim for the sustainable?

“I might be an idealist along with this young student, but “being an idealist is not being a simpleton; without idealists there would be no optimism and without optimism there would be no courage to achieve advances that so-called realists would have you believe could never come to fruition.”

Perhaps the agriculture industry needs to step back from itself and assess their prejudices and biased idea about farming and approach their careers with the same passion and idealism this young future farmer came to my presentation with.

“Scratch the surface of most cynics and you find a frustrated idealist…someone who made the mistake of converting his ideals into expectations.”

Greenhorn's Green Dreams

sustainable farm proposal

Woven Lea Farm – the ideal sustainable farm proposal – VELD architect 2008

4 years ago my brother made a deal with his environmental professor at Ridgetown Agriculture college.  In exchange for guest lecture in her class about my thesis work, he was allowed to skip class to come to my architecture thesis defense. He agreed on my behalf so each year in October I make the trek down to Ridgetown to give a lecture on my thesis work.

I wouldn’t say I am the most eloquent, or engaging of lecturers, but at least I try to be interesting and passionate. But kids these days… they stare at me blankly pretending to listen and love it when I finish early! But each year there are a few that make it worth while. They come up to me after tell me they thought that is was really cool and they make my trip worth while.

The most interesting observation about these kids who are very engaged in my lecture is they tend to be “wanna-be” farmers.  Kids who did not grow up on farms, but have a passion and desire to be involved in the agriculture industry. I think this is because the farm kids already have an idea about what a farm “looks” like and how it’s “supposed” to operate. They come to my lecture with preconceived notions about farming. I’ve been in their shoes, it took me a long time in my thesis work to “get over” my baggage about what farming had to be. The wanna-be farmers love my presentation because they have passion for farming because their idea of farming is a lot like my thesis project, sustainable, in harmony with nature, and energy-efficient. Is it wrong to expect the ideal, or aim for the sustainable?

“I might be an idealist along with this young student, but “being an idealist is not being a simpleton; without idealists there would be no optimism and without optimism there would be no courage to achieve advances that so-called realists would have you believe could never come to fruition.”

Perhaps the agriculture industry needs to step back from itself and assess their prejudices and biased idea about farming and approach their careers with the same passion and idealism this young future farmer came to my presentation with.

“Scratch the surface of most cynics and you find a frustrated idealist…someone who made the mistake of converting his ideals into expectations.”

Rural Relics – A Foundation for Possibilities

I was recently introduced to a bit of Waterloo Region's history. Black Horse Corners, a once bustling small town with an Inn, tannery, fueling mill, pump shop, shingle mill, shoemaker and blacksmith shop, all of which are not longer present except for some remains of the old Inn which burnt down.  Located at the corner of Northhumberland Rd. (58) and Cedar Creek Rd. just east of Cambridge is Black horse Corner and you’ll miss it if you’re not paying attention to the small yellow sign at the intersection.  The Inn used to sit at the north-east corner and the ruins of the walls are just a few feet down from the field surface. The inn was built approximately around 1859, it had a horse stable and outhouse. Jeff Stager, the owner of the farm says that the Inn is only a few feet down and he could easily expose the ruins for curious visitors to explore.

But we cannot forget the cheese factory which still stands near the corner on the farm of Jeff Stager. It has been restored,  along with a smoke house, and designated as a heritage structure. When Jeff took me on a tour of the cheese factory it was a cold windy day.  As we walked into the cheese factory it was warm and cozy and the view across the yellow corn field to the inn was perfect! So perfect I felt that the windows should have a see-through film with and artist rendering on what the small town would have looked liked in its hay-day!

View towards the Inn site

Black Horse Corner it Jeff’s little secret and he wants to share it! There is a great piece of history just waiting to be explored by everyone. Jeff and I spoke about many possibilities for the site including; B&B, cabin rental, a new artisan cheese maker, a cheese store, an artist studio.  We also thought a path along the creek on his farm would lead you right from the cheese factory door to the ruins of the inn, you could even make a corn maze out of it! If you have idea for adaptive reuse, renting the space, or an agritoruism/history project, want to be involved with the abandoned town, leave a comment here.

Barn Raising… I mean Watching

This week my region hosted the International Plowing Match in Roseville, a small rural intersection town I often cycle through during the summer. This year the Mennonite Disaster Relief organization hosted a barn raising demonstration for which I volunteered for many months ago. As the day drew nearer I was very excited to participate in my first barn raising. However, as fate would have it, I broke my collarbone a week before the event (more on my skills as a one-armed draftsperson later!) and was not able to assist. So I sent my husband in my place and participated vicariously through him!
The barn was taken down from a nearby town called Paris, it was assembled and disassembled at the Plowing Match, and reassembled in Collingwood as someone’s storage shed. Although, not my ideal final use and resting place for a barn, it is a preferred fate to many bank barns today.  The barn is a post and beam frame, with post around 12″x12″ (those would be expensive timbers these days!). There were 4 bents (frame that spans the short width of the barn) 40′ wide, and spaced 20′ apart.

The process was quite fascinating. There were about 40 volunteers to do the heavy lifting. When we arrived at 9 (as my father would say, the day is half over already) the 4 bents were lying on the ground ready to lift in place. There were 4 tasks to be assigned, ‘on the rope’, ‘on the pike pole’, ‘lifting the bent’, and ‘at the foundations’; not to mention the conductor of these amateur barn builders (most had never done this before). At the start of raising the majority of volunteers stood along the bent, poised to lift on the “he” of “yo-he”. One person was assigned to a rope on each side of the bent, just to steady the frame and prep the rope as the frame lifted. Another volunteer was given a long crowbar and was in charge of ensuring the frame stayed on the seat of the prepared foundations (done by krinner ground screws, a unique and efficient foundation product). And finally 2 people were assigned to each pike pole, for a total of 4 poles. A pike pole is a long 6″ pole with a thick nail on the end, used to push the bent upwards after it is no longer in reach of the people on the ground.  The process went something like this:
Ye-ho, ye-ho, ye-ho, the bent is now at its highest point within reach of the lifters.

Image

Pike poles are stabilized and lifters who are too short, move to the poles to push.
More people move to the pike poles, while others move to the ropes, now two attached at each end.
The pike poles continue to push, but volunteers move to the ropes to ensure the bent are stabilized as it reaches its vertical position.
The post are leveled into position on the foundations, and spiked temporarily in place until the second bent can go up and cross bracing attached to both bents.
Girders, braces, and pegs are installed using the frame itself as a pulley. assembling a barn is a bit like a puzzle and a few pieces don’t quite fit right the second time around…
Image
but, with a bit of convincing the cross beams go into place and the frame can now support itself.

 

Unfortunately, this is where our day ended with the remaining work to be completed in the following days of the Plowing Match.  My family attended the last day and this is what it looked like.
Check out this video that has some more barn raising action.
This experience only reinforced my obsession with barns and reinforced my ideas about barn architecture;
1. that wood is extremely strong
2. barn raising is a wonderful community building event
3. aside from the nails at the foundations (which was temporary) the barn did not have any mechanical fasteners, only tension and wood joints!
4. timber barn structures have many lives ahead of them, and fire wood is not one of them

Who moved my cheese?

That's what I felt like after biking 35km to the Fifth Town cheese factory in Prince Edward County. Designed by Lapointe Architect, it has been on my architecture bucket list for many years for a few reasons; it was designed by an architect; it gave me hope that an architecture career in agritourism was possible; it is LEED platinum, and I love cheese. Unfortunately, within the past few weeks it entered bankruptcy and was closed (and not because the architect went over budget), just as I had the time to visit Prince Edward County.

After a 30km bike ride to get there it was a welcome rest point, with dedicated VIP bike parking (a LEED point). Unfortunately I was not able to go in or get a guided tour there was lots to see from the outside, and I had done my research on the unique green features.

The factory is one of Ontario’s only cheese factories (or any rural building excluding wineries) that is LEED certified. It meets the criteria for Platinum, which is the highest level of certification. For those of you who don’t know what LEED is, (a post is coming) it stands for Leadership in Energy and Efficiency Design and it is a certification process the measures and confirms reductions in energy use for your building. The diagrams below shown the energy, water and material savings the design provided to this business owner, when compared to other industry standard designs of the same type of building. These savings would get passed onto the business owners! you the farmer! Not to mention its a great marketing tool!

Material, Energy, and Water savings

The building has some unique building materials to give it character and make it unique. Not only does it have corrugated steel cladding (inexpensive) it uses a composite lumber (the red stuff), as well as this unique product called Durisol blocks for the foundations. Durisol blocks are like insulated concrete forms (ICFs), but they are made of a concrete wood fibre blend, giving them additional strength, more insulation value, and more sustainable materials. The Durisol blocks make up the walls for one of my favorite features of the facility; the aging cave. You can see me standing on what looks like a big mound of dirt, which it is, but it is cover and keeping cool the cheese aging cave. You can see in the photograph the viewing window/cave entry on the bottom right. The cool temperatures of the earth significantly reduces the energy required to keep the cheese cool as it ages.

Aging Cave viewing entry, and earthen covering

The facility also looks after water management and waste in a sustainable manner. Whey and wash water are waste products from the cheese making process. The site was designed with bio-wetlands to filter and clean this waste water so that it could naturally infiltrate into the ground again. The Factory also uses cistern to collect roof water and use it for non-potable (non-drinkable) uses.
Whey bio-filtration system

Whey bio-filtration system

Although there was no opportunity for me to taste cheese, there plenty for the building to “say” cheese, with all its goodness!20120605-124500.jpg