Central Experimental Farm Under Threat Once Again

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So another part of the Central Experimental Farm is lopped off. I thought that heritage status would have protected the Farm from further deterioration, but no, it appears that heritage status means nothing.

I have been cycling over the Farm for years and it is by far the best part of my commute. The maximum speed is 30 km/h but most drivers go faster. I’d like to see that enforced better, as it is a working farm,  but five cars on a three km stretch is still a great cycling experience.

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But what is more important is that when you pass through the Farm, you see the land being ploughed, the seeds being sown, the crops growing and eventually being harvested. I have seen a fox, a hawk, thousands of geese and we think we once saw a coyote. I have seen the Ashes slowly dying from the Emerald Ash Borer and the trees being replaced by some maples that are now taking root. I have seen dead Ashes being cut; I got off my bike to count the rings (80), something I haven’t done since I was a kid.
ash lane

I have smelled the manure, saw large impressive machines that I had never seen before, and researchers painstakingly staking out areas for their trial crops. I have seen crop rotation (does that ‘always on’ generation even know what it is and why it happens?) , something I only know from geography in high school.

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All that is not going away, but after the area west of Merivale was sold off, now the northern part is going, cornfields paved over by parking perhaps. And that is very unfortunate as the farm is basically a living museum where we see how our food grows, how nature works, how crops, cattle and human presence all have a place.

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Here is a press release from the Friends of the Central Experimental Farm, that was completely left in the dark about this all. I added the photos, which I took over the years. I thought I organise them by month, starting January and ending in December.

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Friends of the Central  Experimental Farm       Amis de la Ferme expérimentale centrale


For Immediate Release

Ottawa, Ontario – 13 November 2014

Beware of Development Creep

Current and past presidents of the Friends of the Farm warn against creeping commercial development that could be sparked by the severing of 60 acres of Central Experimental Farm for the use of the Civic Hospital. “We are all fans and supporters of the Civic Hospital,” says a former president, Valerie Cousins. “But placing the hospital on the Farm could open the door to destructive commercial development in the not too distant future.”

“The foot print of the proposed hospital could demand more than the severed 60 acres,” says Julie Harris, heritage specialist and co-author of the Central Experimental Farm Management Plan. This is especially concerning when one takes into consideration ancillary services, parking, access roads and employee and patient transit needs. As well, this large complex will have great impact on all of the neighbouring residential areas, including the current Civic Hospital area, with access in and out of the proposed facility in an area already plagued by traffic congestion and intensification.

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National Historic Site designation flouted

In 1998, the Farm in its entirety (426 hectares or 1052 acres) was designated a National Historic Site. Unlike in the U.K and U.S.A. for example, there is no protection in Canada against development for such a site. The current federal government could have chosen to respect the designation of the Farm, but it has not. It is ironic that the commemorative statement, which bestowed the National Historic Site designation on the Farm by Parks Canada says, “…the site is a symbol of the crucial role agriculture has played in shaping Canada.” This seems to mean very little. Canadian citizens need to push for much stronger protection for their cherished sites.

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Comprehensive management plan ignored

In 2004 Agriculture and Agri-food Canada released a management plan to guide future department of the Farm. The main goal was: “To sustain a cultural landscape of national historic significance through a reinvigorated and ongoing agricultural research program.” All stakeholders on the Farm were pleased with the results. “We are concerned that this thoughtful and practical management plan never seemed to be part of the discussion, regarding the severing of the 60 acres,” says Eric Jones, current president of the Friends of the Farm.

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No consultation with its own Advisory Council

Because the Farm is a National Historic Site, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada set up an Advisory Council in 1998 to help the department make reasoned decisions that would take into consideration the Farm’s historic, current and future values. The Council has 11 members who represent dozens of stakeholder groups including landscape architects, heritage groups, 4-H Councils and city planners. Though the Council meets regularly and has been consulted on previous proposals, it was not informed about the severing of the 60 acres, before it was announced to the media on November 3. We believe this absence of the usual advisory process shows a worrying disregard for a tried and true practice in which a government department can look to community organizations for feedback.

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Recent incorrect statements

A recent Ottawa Citizen column by Randall Denley (Nov. 6, 2014) made several incorrect statements about the Farm. One is that there is no public value in a “cornfield.” Another is that the research on the Farm could just as easily be done elsewhere in rural eastern Ontario. What the columnist does not seem to accept or understand is that these fields are the most scientifically studied and recorded fields in Canada, with experiments begun soon after the Farm was established in late 1886. “This is a huge plus for research scientists at the Farm today,” says Doug Shouldice, a former president of the Friends of the Farm. “There are specific conditions and soil compositions that could never be reproduced elsewhere.” There are ongoing research programs in barley, canola, corn, oats, soybeans, spring wheat, winter wheat and sunflower.

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A Farm for all Canadians

It is worth pointing out that the Farm is not just a local asset, but a national treasure. While working on the management plan, co-author Julian Smith said he was “…surprised to learn how important the Central Experimental Farm is to people across Canada, in terms of our Canadian identify and what we’ve become as a country.” He spoke with people who are involved in agricultural and landscape research at universities, botanical gardens, private landscaping businesses, and other organizations.

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When asked about their ideas of the Central Experimental Farm, they all stressed its significance to their own work and its importance as a Canadian symbol. “All believed the historical gardens and landscape must be maintained,” Smith stated. “In fact the city of Calgary is full of lilacs developed by Isabella Preston at the Central Experimental Farm.”

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A jewel in our midst

The Central Experimental Farm is a jewel in the center of a city and is one of the few elements in Ottawa that makes the city unique. With growing intensification and congestion, an open urban space is critical for our health. “The Farm offers a natural air-cleaning system, a peaceful respite from urban congestion and a chance to let one’s eyes rest on the long view,” says former Friends president, Polly McColl, who has worked tirelessly developing the treed shelterbelt on Merivale Ave.

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The current president and former presidents believe that the ill-advised decision to allow development on a National Historic Site (even if that development is for a public service building) is a troubling precedent to set. As well, they call on citizens concerned with history, beauty and scientific research to work for stronger safeguards so that national treasures, like the Central Experimental Farm, are truly protected.

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