Posts Tagged ‘agriculture’
Wendy Gillis‘ Toronto Star article describing the last family farm operating in the city of Mississauga caught my attention. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the economics are dire, the younger Hustler men having to work off the farm as well to keep to farm going as a viable business. Will it be much longer until it’s sold off at a hefty price for real estate development?
As if he knew the house would one day sit on the edge of one of North America’s busiest highways, British settler Jacob Scott laid the red brick walls of his farm house 14 inches thick, then slapped on a layer of horse-hair plaster for good measure. For that, the Hustler family is forever grateful — their home, built by Scott in 1828, is uncannily quiet.
Outside on the farm, it’s a bizarre cacophony of urban and rural noise. Massive Hereford cattle bellow. Three dozen sheep swap nasally baas. Titan and Bailey, the Hustler farm dogs, bark replies.
The animal chorus competes against the roar of cars speeding down the 401 and the on-ramp to the 407, which together form the Hustler farm’s northern boundary. To the immediate east, the cars swerve in and out of the bustling big-box shopping centre, a maze of chain stores and restaurants.
“The cows used to summer pasture across the road,” says 34-year-old Jason, a fifth-generation Hustler, trudging through soggy grounds on a recent spring day.
“Basically, where the Rona is, the Buffalo Wild Wings, the Michael’s.”
Once just another farm in a predominantly agrarian region, the Hustlers today operate the last working farm in Mississauga, a 52-acre lot tucked in the very northwest corner of a city better known for cosmopolitan condos and sprawling subdivisions.
The potato warehouse belonging to potato agribusiness Cavendish Farms, located at 24 St. Charles Road just north of Route 2, is one of a dozen Cavendish Farm locations in the Maritime provinces and Maine and one of four dozen potato dealers on Prince Edward Island.
Potatoes are huge on Prince Edward Island, as the Canadian Encyclopedia notes. The biggest potato-producing province in Canada despite its small size, Prince Edward Island agriculture depends heavily on the potato and has for quite some time, as noted in this historical essay at the website of the PEI Potato Blossom Festival.
Prince Edward Island was first introduced to potatoes in 1758 when the British took over from the French. An ideal growing place for potatoes the potato harvest was ‘a phenomenal success’. Soon, potatoes were being exported to other colonies, and in 1802, Lord Selkirk brought settlers from the Scottish highlands to the Orwell Bay area of the Island. Provided with potatoes to cultivate, the Scots survived almost exclusively on a diet of potatoes and cod for a few years, and by 1806 John Stewart was quoted as saying: ‘potatoes are raised in great abundance, and in no country better’.
Faced with land covered almost entirely by a dense forest, the settlers who arrived on Prince Edward Island had to clear land tree by tree to make room for their farms. Often it would take several years to get their fields completely clear of tree stumps. Making as much of their land as they could, they were forced to plant their crops among the stumps while they were still at work clearing out the fields. Because the potatoes took little care or attention, the land owners were free to focus on the development of their farms. In 1822 a man named Walter Johnstone described the potato planting among tree stumps and the piles of soil over the potatoes as resembling ‘mole hills’.
In 1805, statistics showed that out of 10,000 acres of farm land on PEI, 15% was devoted to potatoes. This percentage increased over time, and by 1820 over 40,000 bushels of potatoes were being sent as far away as the West Indies. By the ’40s this number had increased to 124,000. Exports kept increasing until 1845, when the Island was hit by the same blight that caused famine in Ireland. The modern potato industry in PEI eventually became world famous, beginning in the 1920s after two new varieties of potatoes were introduced: the Irish Cobbler variety and the Green Mountain variety.
In the 1920s, potato acreage in PEI almost doubled, with yields tripling. The beginning of a period of cooperation between federal and provincial governments resulted in the development of the seed potato industry and the control of potato diseases. Realizing that with the small size of the Island, scientists could familiarize themselves with all of its potato farms. This, along with the Island’s cold winters, made disease and pest control and prevention much easier. These advantages of the Island’s size and isolation have resulted in exceptionally high quality potatoes. Today, no seed potatoes are able to leave the Island without the certification of government inspectors.
The 1950s brought around the introduction of large-scale mechanization to potato farming on Prince Edward Island. The result: more potato acreage, less individual potato growers. Today, PEI’s largest number of the acres used for the cultivating potatoes are found in our area, Prince County (the western part of the Island).
The website of the Canadian Potato Museum in the western community of O’Leary has more information on the contemporary potato.