Doing meat differently

January 14, 2013   3:32 pm

Filed under: Blog,Portfolio,Radio — Tags: , , , , , — Phil @ 3:32 pm

A couple of years ago, I was sent out to interview John Duynisveld of Holdanca Farms. He’s a research scientist with Agriculture Canada who grew up on a farm, and who farms himself. On his land in Wallace, in northern Nova Scotia, he raises pigs, cattle, lambs, turkeys, and lots and lots of chickens. (He also has a pretty sweet-looking and very effective guard llama.)

After meeting John and spending some time on his farm, I became a customer, and much of the meat my family purchases now comes from him.¬† Here is my radio documentary (it’s under 10 minutes) on how John raises and markets his meat, and why he’s eschewed traditional approaches.

Tantallon development flawed

   2:32 pm

Dear Mr. Mayor and members of the Central Community Council,

I am unable to attend the public consultation tonight, and am writing to urge you to not approve the development for the Tantallon Crossroads, as currently proposed by Genivar and Cobalt.

I know that the Saint Margaret’s Bay Chamber of Commerce, Stewardship Association, and SMB Tourism have written to you on this issue, and I substantially agree with their points. In order to avoid repetition, I will briefly sum up my concerns, as a 15-year resident of Glen Margaret.

1) Over the last few years, various community groups, with the cooperation of HRM, have held public consultations and visioning sessions to develop a proposal for the character of the Upper Tantallon Crossroads. These sessions were well-attended, and produced a cohesive set of guidelines that would encourage appropriate development, maintain the coastal character of the community, and enhance the area as a tourism destination. The result of these sessions was a series of proposed by-law amendments that have yet to be adopted. Under the proposed amendments, the development under consideration would not be acceptable (much in the way that Skye Halifax was not acceptable under HRM By Design — and Council made the correct decision in not proceeding with it). The Genivar-Cobalt proposal is only under consideration because, for whatever reason, nearly two years after the by-law amendments were proposed, they have yet to be adopted. The proposed by-laws should first be adopted, and Council should then consider development proposals that are consistent with them.

2) Given that the proposed by-laws were the result of an inclusive community process, one hopes they will eventually be adopted. However, approval of this proposed development will effectively gut the vision of the Crossroads and make the amended by-laws almost irrelevant. This would be an essentially anti-democratic process.

3) Councillor Whitman has written to me that the proposed development goes against the wishes of only some local residents. I talk to a lot of people and have yet to find anyone enthusiastic about the further strip-malling of our community. Nobody is calling for more drive-thrus, as far as I can tell. Many of us have chosen to live here because of the unique character of the place, and this proposal is an attack on that unique nature.

4) Both the Chamber of Commerce and the Stewardship Association are united in their opposition to the proposed development. The fact that business interests and environmentalists are working hand-in-hand to oppose the development speaks to a broad consensus.

5) Finally, if it goes ahead, the development will strike a serious blow to active transportation and the creation of a pedestrian-friendly community. The Crossroads has the potential to be a pedestrian-friendly community, but this proposal will greatly hinder any hopes of that becoming a reality. As it stands, pedestrian and cycling links are poor — which is particularly sad if one considers the proximity of the old rail line. Try going to Otis and Clementine’s for a coffee and then making your way to the Superstore for groceries. Even though these businesses are in physical proximity, the experience is not one you will want to repeat — particularly in winter. We need to develop active transportation routes within the community, not build more drive-thrus.

Given these factors, as well as those raised by others who have written to you, I strongly urge you to not approve the development as it now stands.


Philip Moscovitch
Glen Margaret

More farms in NS

November 6, 2012   3:32 pm

Filed under: Blog — Tags: , , — Phil @ 3:32 pm

Recently released numbers from the Census of Agriculture show that the number of farms across the country is down over the last five years. Every province saw a decline — except Nova Scotia, which saw a modest increase.

When I mentioned this to my friend Av Singh, who is a small farm and organics consultant, he said he wondered how much of that increase he was responsible for. That’s because Av deals with a lot of folks who do small-scale farming, but don’t see themselves as “real” farmers.

He tells them they are indeed real farmers — in fact, that the future of farming may depend more on people like them than on large, centralized operations — and he encourages them to take advantage of the benefits that come with registering your farming operation.

So is the number of farms up in Nova Scotia? Or are there just more people reporting farm income? I looked at this question in a recent article for the FCC Express. Here’s the piece:

Number of Nova Scotia farms increasing

by Philip Moscovitch

Nova Scotia is the only province that saw its number of farms increase between 2006 and 2011.

According to Statistics Canada’s most recent Census of Agriculture, the number increased by 2.9 per cent, to 3,905. Nationally, over the same five years, the number of farms decreased by just over 10 per cent.

But nobody knows whether there are a lot more farmers, or just better reporting. Department of Agriculture spokesperson Adele Poirier says that more small farms have registered, and that some mink farms were missed in the 2006 census.

“We’re not saying the number of farms hasn’t increased, but we don’t know if it has increased as much as the numbers would indicate,” she says.

Organics and small farm consultant Av Singh says he suspects that more farmers are registering their operations — and that’s good for agriculture in the province.

“We had a strong push to have more farmers register,” Singh says. “I think many food producers were seeing themselves as hobby farmers or boutique farmers, but they are recognizing that they have a valuable role to play in terms of food production, food security, and food sovereignty.”

While Singh suspects much of the increase in farm numbers comes from registrations, he also points out that the province is successfully attracting new farmers too.

“I think we are getting farmers from Germany, from the U.K., and from the U.S.,” he says. “But I think we can do a better job in defining the kinds of farmers we want to attract and be more strategic in how we attract new farmers in a way that can be synergistic to Nova Scotia agriculture.”

Fraser Hunter, an organic dairy farmer who came to Nova Scotia from the United Kingdom, calls the province “the land of milk and honey,” saying, “we can produce milk and honey and a lot more too.”

Having relatively low land prices compared to other jurisdictions, as well as Canada’s largest number of farmers’ markets per capita (Singh says there are about 50) doesn’t hurt either.

Bryan Dyck and Shannon Jones met while working on farms near Guelph, Ont., but wound up settling down on 15 acres in northern Nova Scotia, where they have a mixed vegetable farm.

“One reason that coming to Nova Scotia was really attractive to us as farmers is that land is much more affordable here than in southern Ontario,” says Dyck. “We paid $55,000 for 15 acres, and we are less than an hour from Moncton. You can’t find prices like that anywhere in Ontario close to a fairly large city.”

Singh says farmers in Nova Scotia tend to support rather than compete with each other — and that encourages more people to take up agriculture.

“Other farmers are very supportive and encouraging,” Dyck says. “There are middle-aged farmers who are a great resource.”

While we may not know exactly how many new farms there are in Nova Scotia, it’s clear the numbers are not decreasing. And Singh thinks the count may go up quite a bit more for the next census.

“The ThinkFarm push by the Department of Agriculture to encourage new farmers has definitely increased awareness of the benefits of registering as a farm,” Singh says. “But I still think there’s some work to do out there, and the numbers may go up some more.”

Little Free Library

July 25, 2012   11:42 am

Filed under: Blog,Radio — Tags: , , , — Phil @ 11:42 am
Diane Buckle

Diane Buckle and her Little Free Library

Diane Buckle of Indian Harbour, Nova Scotia, is steward of the province’s first Little Free Library. I first noticed it while driving by on the way to Peggy’s Cove, so I stopped in to chat with Diane about it.

The Little Free Library movement started in Wisconsin and has now gone international. Diane’s library (#1,955) opened in June. It was built for her as a birthday present by her husband, Jim.

I spoke with Diane about the library for Information Morning on CBC Radio, and you can listen to the interview here.

School library cuts hit hard

May 15, 2012   2:34 pm

Filed under: Blog — Tags: , , , , — Phil @ 2:34 pm

This post has been updated. The librarian I refer to below is Jennifer Calder, and she’s fine with me using her name. She says, “I’m happy to know I convey my passion for what I’m doing.”

If you’ve ever met me, you probably know I care a lot about libraries. I am chair of the Halifax Regional Library Board, and generally a champion of all things library-related.

So it was with some shock that I (like other Nova Scotians) learned that the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board planned to cut costs by getting rid of all its librarians and library technicians. My first thought was that this was the most backward and least imaginative response possible.

The board has since (with prodding from the provincial government) gone back on its decision. But it is still cutting 21.2 full-time positions (leaving 16.9) . That’s still a huge loss.

I do writing workshops for kids throughout the province, and I have been in a lot of school libraries. To be honest, a lot of them are pretty pathetic. I used to volunteer in an elementary school library, and I felt really conflicted about it. On the one hand, I was a good person for the job. On the other, I always felt that the kids deserved a real librarian (or at least library tech) instead of a well-meaning volunteer like me.

The cuts the Chignecto Board is making really hit home for me last week when I was visiting a small school in the northern part of Nova Scotia. There was a young librarian there (she splits her time between two schools) and she was a real dynamo: up on technology, widely read, enthusiastic. She’d taken a library in which — are you ready for this — none of the books had been properly catalogued, and turned it into an inviting place to read, study and borrow.

She will probably lose her job in this round of cuts, and her students will be the worse off for it. The whole thing makes me sad and angry at the same time. The Internet will not replace a good librarian. But that’s an argument for another time.

How to run a corn maze

November 18, 2011   11:44 am

Filed under: Blog — Tags: , , , — Phil @ 11:44 am

Last week I posted a few tidbits from an upcoming piece on farmers who run corn mazes. The story’s online now, and you can read the whole thing here.

Boundary rock goes national

November 8, 2011   2:03 pm

Filed under: Blog — Tags: , , , , — Phil @ 2:03 pm

My radio documentary on the search for the Boundary Rock aired nationally on CBC’s In the Field, November 1 and 6. (If you missed it, you’ll find the podcast at that link.)

I was interested to read the comments on the piece — especially from a couple of folks (Beavis1 and Bush Rat) who were less than impressed. (Update: comments seem to have been removed.)

All of the commenters disagreed with the decision to remove the flagging tape. I was a bit surprised to see it come down myself, but I wasn’t part of the discussion. My main role on the trip was to record, capture what I could, and share the story as accurately as possible.

I can tell Bush Rat that it’s highly unlikely the tape was a critical marker for anybody. The rock is several kilometres inland from Junction Lake — so it’s definitely not marking a fishing hole. The rock is also in a heavily forested spot in the midst of a protected wilderness area: no ATVs, no snowmobiles, no forestry, no hiking trails. Limited hunting is allowed, but you’d have a hell of a time getting your deer out from the Boundary Rock on foot.

But whether or not the tape should have been removed is a real question for debate, and I’m glad to see the question come up.

When I was working on this piece I was hoping that someone would hear it and come forward to say they knew who had put the tape up.¬† A lot of people have looked for the rock over the years, but the number who have actively devoted effort to researching the location and trying to find it is probably limited to a relatively small number of hardcore outdoors enthusiasts — many of whom know each other. As one of the people on the trip said, “There aren’t that many people in Nova Scotia who’ve been looking for this rock, and probably half of them are right here.”

At this point, I think we can safely assume the Whynott brothers had nothing to do with it. A rumour I’ve heard from a guy who spends a lot of time in the woods is that some apprentice surveyors marked it as part of an exercise. I don’t know if they hiked in or flew in with a helicopter, but I’d love to learn more.

NS veggie yields vary

October 31, 2011   3:54 pm

Filed under: Blog — Tags: , , , — Phil @ 3:54 pm

It’s been a mostly wet and wild growing season in Nova Scotia. That means lower yields for some vegetable farmers this year — or, as horticulturalist Viliam Zvalo told me, it’s “back to reality” after a couple of stellar years for heat-loving crops like tomatoes and peppers.

For more, read my story on the province’s fall veggie harvest in the FCC Express.

One of the factors complicating life for farmers is climate change. As Zvalo points out in my piece, instead of having regular rainfalls, we now see dry periods followed by huge amounts of rain in short periods of time. That can wipe out a crop and leach nutrients right out of the soil.

In case you’re wondering, according to the most recent census figures, Nova Scotia’s top vegetable crops are carrots and broccoli, with almost 2,500 acres of carrots planted. Nova Scotia also accounts for more than half the Maritimes’ production of vegetables.

Search for Boundary Rock

June 16, 2011   2:17 pm

Filed under: Blog,Portfolio,Radio — Tags: , , , , , — Phil @ 2:17 pm

How does a massive rock disappear?

The Boundary Rock was once a southwestern Nova Scotia landmark. Hunters and fishermen had their picture taken by (and on) it. It even appeared on a postcard. But sometime over the last century, its precise location seems to have dropped out of our collective memory.

In my latest radio documentary, The Search for Boundary Rock, I join Paul Maybee and a group of four others, as we head into the remote Tobeatic Wilderness area for a week. Our goal: to find the rock and drag it back into history. This is Paul’s third attempt. But this time, he’s far better prepared than he’s ever been. With the help of experienced trekkers — including Bob Johnston of New Minas, who has spent 10 years researching the Boundary Rock — Paul is convinced we can find it.

The documentary first aired on CBC Radio’s Maritime Magazine¬†(now called Atlantic Voice) in June 2011. You can listen to it here.


Below is a selection of my photos from the trip. Click anywhere to be taken to the full set on Flickr.