Hello Friends of the Land Between!
My name is Joel Sloggett, and I have taken on the Agricultural Heritage research portfolio. Following an undergraduate degree in business administration (with a specialization in ethics and sustainability), I am a recent graduate of the Sustainability Studies Masters program at Trent University, where I was also board facilitator for the co-operative, vegetarian/vegan cafe, the Seasoned Spoon, and a teaching assistant with the Trent University School of the Environment.
While completing my degree, I researched the processing and distribution resources utilized by livestock producers in Central Ontario (and the Land Between), and in conducting that project, was able to bring together and learn from stakeholders drawn from all aspects of the production and distribution chains to collectively discuss barriers, emerging concerns, and opportunities for collaboration. It is this background and experience I will bring to uncovering the stories of traditional and innovative food production in the Land Between bioregion. These topics are immensely important to envisioning sustainability in the region’s food system, via better understanding of the tools, techniques and knowledge that have promoted sustenance, resilience and agricultural success on this land today, and throughout its history.
The impact of that unique geography and history in the Land Between cannot be undersold. The region’s thin soil and dynamic landscape are not conducive to the industrialized, export-oriented agricultural standards of high-input, cash-crop, monoculture farming, seen for many decades as the way to maximum profit in the farming hotbeds of southern Ontario. For settlers to even survive in the region when they arrived, with its’ new climate, and harsh winters, reliance on Indigenous groups for traditional knowledge was required. Not only was the value of canoes, toboggans and snowshoes made clear, but settlers were shown how and where to collect berries, and taught the steps involved in creating maple sugar, and syrup. As settlers began to farm, they planted seeds acquired from Indigenous peoples, such as corn, squash and pumpkin. The Land Between was not welcoming to those ignorant of its’ ways, but by no means are the resources of agricultural success unavailable to those willing to be adaptable, and work with the land, including its’ people and unique ecosystems.
In pursuit of uncovering additional instances of ingenuity and collaboration, I have begun visiting farms and farmers throughout The Land Between to hear their stories of agricultural success, failure and everything in-between, both now and in the past. Along with observations on-farm and interviews with those working with the land to access food, and their families, I am supplementing these oral accounts with historical archival data gathered from historical societies, libraries, historians, local and regional museums scattered throughout the area.
My hope is that this data will uncover additional skills and stories of agricultural legacy in The Land Between and provide context to the stories passed down in families who have been farming the same land for many generations. Through this process, we will increase our understanding of what skills and knowledge lead to agricultural success in the Land Between, and where these assets originated from. With that information, it is our hope that a catalogue/toolkit of agricultural skills can be developed, specific to the unique needs, requirements, areas and ecosystems of The Land Between, where this resource can then be used to support and promote food sovereignty in all its forms.
Figure A:Tony Fritsch, The Fritsch Farm
One of the folks representing a multi-generational legacy of farming and survival in The Land Between is Tony Fritsch (pictured above). Tony felt he had something to contribute to the future of agriculture in The Land Between and offered to have me out to visit the farm in Denbigh, Ontario. Known for its sandy soil and the dramatically contoured nature of the underlying bedrock landscape, there are not many farms remaining in Denbigh, as by Tony’s count they seen an over 90% decrease in the number of farms since his childhood. Tony has been able to create economic sustainability by specializing in pastured beef, which he sells direct to customers who come to see him at this farm, by the half or whole cow, and sees the relationship of mutual respect he develops with his herd as integral to his success. This type of operation, capitalizing on the profit potential of the overlapping niche markets of local food, grazed beef and regional terroir, is a far cry from the homestead farm developed by Tony’s great-great-grandparents when they immigrated to the area from Germany in the 1870’s: “When the Addington Road reached the Denbigh area, a few German immigrants settled there. More German families came in and the village became known as the German Settlement… A post office was established in 1863 and the village name was changed to Denbigh”
With the help of modern technology and equipment, building on a foundation of homesteader farming knowledge transferred and refined through 5 generations of Fritsch farmers, Tony has adopted practices such as soil testing, conservation tillage, frost seeding, buffers to reduce nutrient runoff, forage crop mixes chosen to work with and improve soil quality, rainfall tracking, environmental farm plan development, installation of bird nesting space in his barn, along with preservation of wetlands and fence lines to promote biodiversity. Though new farmers do not start up in Denbigh often, Tony freely shares his time, knowledge and resources, even with experienced producers looking to try something new, echoing the spirit of cooperation and support Tony recalls from his childhood in Denbigh’s once thriving agricultural community.
Does Tony’s story sound familiar? Have you found innovative ways to promote biodiversity on your own farm? We want to hear your stories of working on and with this land. If you, or someone you know, would like to speak with us, please get in touch by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 705-761-3349. If you’ve got stories of success or failure, legacy or hardship, innovation or experimentation, we would like to hear from you!
Coppolino, A. (2016, October 22). Where’s the Beef…From? CBC News.
John Keith. (2014, Fall/Winter). Up the Addington Colonization Road. The Pioneer Times, pp. 8-10.
Jones, A. (2006). Genocides of Indigenous Peoples. In A. Jones, Genocides: A Comprehensive Introduction (pp. 105-139). New York: Routledge Publishing.
Pin, L. (2019, February 29). “There’s a Reason”: Local Farmers Respond to Crop Diversity Study. From Sarnia Observer: https://www.theobserver.ca/news/local-news/theres-a-reason-local-farmers-respond-to-crop-diversity-study
Sloggett, J. (2021, July 13). Denbigh, ON.
Staff of the Eastern Region Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. (1987). Mineral Aggregate Resources Inventory of the County of Lennox and Addington, Southern Ontario. Ministry of Natural Resources.
Sustain Ontario. (2014, February 24). Carving Our Niche. From Sustain Ontario: https://sustainontario.com/carving-our-niche/
Welton, M. (2010). A Country at the End of the World: Living and Learning in New France, 1608-1760. The Canadian Journal for the Study of Adult Education.