Replacing Forests with Wastelands: farming along twelve-mile creek

Relaxing on the east bank of Twelve Mile Creek in downtown St Catharine's

The papers have been hyping it all week and it’s finally here: Thursday July 21st, the supposed hottest day of the year. We’re in downtown St Catherines, watching as the scorching heat pushes everyone off the north side of St Paul st in favour of the shady south side.

We talk about this kind of scorching, desert-like heat as completely unnatural for this area. It’s a consequence of cutting down all the trees and replacing them with ridiculous concrete wastelands like this one. From St Paul st and Ontario st, we cut South-East, taking a foot bridge over the highway and descending down to the banks of Twelve Mile Creek. If this heat is unnatural, then the best way to beat it is by getting into spaces that are.

We hurry through the meadow and into the welcoming shade of the forest on the creek’s east bank. The relief is immediate – we slow down to savour the cool of the creek and the trees it supports. On a narrow peninsula that extends out into the creek, we find comfy spots in the shade and relax. On one side, the water runs fast and high, flooding the Elms and Willows that grow low on the bank – on the other, sheltered by the peninusla, the water pools, making space for Cattails, Lilies, Ducks, and Herons.

Our hosts in St Catharines are from a group called DIG (Develop Integrate Grow) who, among other things, work to connect people in their community with the food they eat by developing community gardens. Agriculture has been a consistent theme throughout the Seeds of Resistance tour, with all but one of our hosts being farmers or community gardeners. In chatting with the DIGers, our minds turn to workers in the fields under the nowmidday sun. We imagine the exposed soil of a ploughed field baking to dust in today’s heat and the huge amount of water being drawn up to keep sensitive crops alive.

One question we always ask at our workshops is, “What are the scars of colonization on this land?” and the DIGers are quick to answer. They tell us that the land upstream is cleared and divided by fences, and that the farming there is of the heavily polluting, energy intensive, industrial cash-crop variety. Although significant stretches of Upper Twelve Mile Creek have some form of protection, the water is much warmer, more polluted, and more difficult to migrate along than most creatures can handle.

From this observation, a new question arises: Can we imagine a form of farming that is compatible with allying with the health of the land? Thinking in the long term, the answer to this question is uncertain, but there are clearly positive steps we can be taking right now.

Industrial agriculture has always relied on exploitative labour, and it also disconnects eaters from the source of their food. This division leads to the worst ecological destruction, because the people doing farm work have no control over the terms of that work, and the realities of it are hidden from consumers who are allowed no other role in the system.

DIG works to break down some of these fences that industrial agriculture puts up. By establishing community gardens in the city, they seek to involve as many people as possible in growing their own food. And by building friendships and alliances with migrant farm workers outside of the city, they are creating links along the length of this creek and between different parts of the food system.

We recall that during the earlier days of colonization here, settlers used agriculture as a weapon in pushing back the ancient forests and driving away Indigenous Peoples. Any form of land use – and especially growing food – aiming to ally with the healing of the land must acknowledge and address this. In Kingston, we also met farmers who are doing forest restoration on parts of their land, who actively support the struggles of Indigenous Peoples in the area sovereignty, and who remain connected to urban-based movements for social and ecological justice.

Sitting with the high, fast water, we wonder about this creek’s flow. Almost all of the water passing us here comes from ‘lake’ Gibson, the reservoir of a hydroelectric dam in the south end of the city. For the past month, maintenance on the dam has meant that the creek’s flow is higher than usual. We wonder about what the flow of the creek would have been like before the construction of the dam and before its banks were straightened. How much water would be moving past in a time before the trees, whose roots slow the movement of rain water over the land, helping it filter down into the watertable, were cleared for agriculture?

We dip our feet in the cool stream and tickle the tiny pink roots that sprout from the trunk of a fallen Willow. The sun is still blaring, and we’re in no hurry to return to the sweltering city streets, so we sit and reflect again that in a watershed, all places are profoundly interconnected. Throughout this region, there are thousands of explorations into healthy ways of relating to land, ecosystems, food, and other humans. Our struggles are as connected as our rivers and streams, and by building connections both upstream with farmers and all along the shores of these Great Lakes, we can greatly increase the strength of our movements.

For more information about DIG, there’s a link to their website on the left side of this page, under Friends and Allies.

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One response to “Replacing Forests with Wastelands: farming along twelve-mile creek

  1. Damn, can’t believe that you actually went to 12 Mile. Did you come across the ruined canal pieces that are now covered with dandelions & plantains? There’s a decent-sized horse chestnut tree that still shades the western section, and it’s a good place to get away from the noise of the city. Even if power lines still dangle across the water…

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