I just walked out to check on the tomatoes. Still green, just a touch of pink here and there. This is my fault. I started the seeds late, and was late in getting the baby plants into the ground. I’m not much of a vegetable gardener, probably because I’m not very interested in cooking, but I sure do enjoy that first tomato of the year, fresh off the vine. Nothing like it! I enjoyed Barbara’s take on fresh tomato sandwiches over at Folkways Notebook. While I wait for that first homegrown tomato, I have been doing the next-best thing, visiting our local pick-your-own and garden market farm and buying tomatoes there.
On a recent visit, I picked up a handout on the counter, a folder advertising local food farms. There is an amazing array of fresh food available right here, close to home, everything from vegetables and orchard fruits to honey and maple syrup. The flyer says it all: “No matter how you slice it, local food is more than a passing fad. In fact, supporting local food is one of the simplest things you can do to support the local economy, conserve valuable farm land, protect the environment, improve your health and learn more about where you live. Today, the average Canadian meal travels over 2,000 kilometers from the farm to your plate. … vegetables may be picked days or weeks before ripening. …local food is harvested fresh – as it was meant to be!”
The “Eat Local” movement has caught on and spread like wildfire. Books such as Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Smith and Mackinnon’s The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating, have helped to raise awareness of food issues. Recently, I’ve noticed new books such as native plant gardening guru Lorraine Johnson’s City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing, Sarah Elton’s Locavore: From Farmers’ Fields To Rooftop Gardens – How Canadians Are Changing the Way We Eat and Novella Carpenter’s Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer have focused on urban food issues. Celebrity chefs such as Toronto’s Jamie Kennedy are promoting local food culture and restaurants have begun to offer dishes featuring all-local food. There are even festivals celebrating local food. The local food movement has been so keenly embraced that even supermarkets are jumping on the bandwagon and advertising local produce.
Yes, eating local is big news these days. I was therefore aghast when I read of the Canadian government’s plan to close down prison farms! These farms are a 100-year-old tradition in Canada and to close them just at this point in history when local food production is more relevant than ever flies in the face of reason.
Beyond the obvious advantage of providing inmates with farm-fresh produce, farms offer an opportunity to work out-of-doors and experience the natural world in a way that it is unlikely many inmates have ever been able to enjoy. The Public Safety Committee, a group composed of representatives from all political parties, heard from witnesses who said that prison farms teach inmates valuable work and life skills that serve them well upon release. Mark Holland, the committee’s vice-chairman, said “The bottom line is it’s one of the most effective programs we have at rehabilitating inmates.”
Yet the Conservative government, making the announcement through spokesman Chris McCluskey, says that traditional farming is outdated and less than one percent of inmates find agricultural employment after leaving prison. The Conservatives have even refused an appeal to hire independent experts to study the impact of the closures, and is acting without full insight into the benefits of farms and the effects the closures will have.
If you agree that prison farms should be saved, you can sign the petition at Saveourprisonfarms.ca.