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‘A healing farm:’ Produce project helps Yazidi refugees in Manitoba plant roots


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WINNIPEG — As each seed broke the surface of the rich Manitoba soil, Salim Hasan felt a little bit more like he was building real roots in his new home.

The comforting routine of planting seeds, taking care of the crop and celebrating harvest with the community brought the Yazidi refugee back to a world before Islamic State militants shattered his homeland.

“It felt like I got my identity back again,” Hasan said through a translator.

“I was able to provide for my family … and see how happy my kids were. It really made me happy and it was something I didn’t think I would feel again.”

Hasan, along with hundreds of other Yazidi refugees, harvested more than 9,000 kilograms of produce this year as part of a special farming project in Manitoba. The food was given to refugee families and leftovers were sold at farmers markets or given to food banks.

“It’s an incredible sense of pride that they are able to work themselves,” said Nafiya Naso, a Yazidi resettlement co-ordinator.

“We call it a healing farm now. That wasn’t really the mission or the mandate of the farm, but it’s really what it has become.”

Naso is part of a grassroots group that advocated for Yazidi refugees and their resettlement in Canada. It now supports their integration into life in Manitoba.

Naso was about six years old when her family fled to Syria from Iraq. The family was in a refugee camp for nine years before arriving in Canada in 1999. She never forgot what they went through.

About five years ago, Naso started hearing about atrocities ISIS committed against the religious minority Yazidis. Men were killed, boys were murdered or taken as child soldiers and women and girls became sex slaves. Hundreds of thousands fled.

The United Nations has called the mass killings a genocide.

Naso began to advocate on behalf of Yazidis and Operation Ezra was formed with support from the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. Soon many more faith groups, schools and other organizations joined to help.

Michel Aziza, the chairman of Operation Ezra, says the organization has sponsored 11 families — totalling 65 people — in Winnipeg. The group has also been key in the settlement of about 250 Yazidi refugees who came to the city as part of a federal resettlement project two years ago. About 1,200 government-assisted Yazidi refugees were brought to Canada.

Many of the refugees were single mothers with six to eight children. Their husbands had disappeared in their homeland; so had some of their older children. Many had a history of being sex slaves under ISIS.

There was much trauma to contend with on top of regular challenges faced by refugees, Aziza said.

Many of the families were struggling to have enough food, so when a community member volunteered his land in 2018, Operation Ezra jumped on it, Aziza said. Almost 320 kilograms of potatoes were farmed.

This year, the Shelmerdine Garden Centre donated just over three hectares of land in Saint François Xavier, Man. The results were beyond what anyone could imagine, Aziza said.

Refugees grew enough to feed the Yazidi families, sell extra and, when it still wasn’t gone, make donations to the food bank.

Aziza said many of the families have realized that returning to their homeland may never be an option, so they are planting deep roots in a new home.

“It became very therapeutic for them.”

Naso said gardening has brought the refugees a bountiful harvest, support from community and faith in a future.

She recalled an older Yazidi woman who looked out at the farmland and spoke about how she expected to die at the hands of ISIS.

“To see a sight like this with the kids on the farm, and the other women and the men doing what they did back home before the war started and ISIS came and changed their lives forever,” Naso said, taking a moment to hold back tears.

“Just that little moment in itself is what this farm means for the community and means for the families and their healing.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 24, 2019.

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

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Why Canadians Should Care About Land Loss

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Why Canadians Should Care About Land Loss

Developments are increasingly taking over Canadian farmland. Farms once took up much of Canadian land. However, that case is not true today. Only about 5% of Canada’s land is considered prime farmland. This prime land borders one of Canada’s fastest-growing regions, and once suburban development overtakes it, Canadian farmers will have a challenging time providing food for the cities.

Farmers in Canada make their livelihood by planting, growing, harvesting and distributing food to the Canadian populations. Without land, both farmers and the rest of those living in Canada will not get fresh, Canadian grown produce.

Here are some reasons why Canadian farmers should care about land loss:

  1. Farmland Provides Food

While this is an apparent reason, it’s an essential one. Prime farmland in Canada produces food for major Canadian cities. As farmers continue to lose land, they have to rely on a smaller acreage to make the same amount of food — if not more — for the growing population.

Over the past 10 years, almost 1 million hectares of agricultural land has diminished due to development and growing populations. Agriculture continues to adapt to land loss. However, further technological advancements must first take place to grow enough produce vertically rather than horizontally.

  1. Land Preservation Will Help the Economy

Farmland preservations come with a wealth of economic benefits. Agriculture contributes to the economy through the following ways:

  • Sales: For the economy to survive, there needs to be consumer demands and sales. Almost everyone purchases produce, so there will always be a demand for those goods. Without land to grow agricultural products, no sales will be made, and the economy could suffer.
  • Job opportunities: Less than 2% of Canada’s population works in the agriculture industry. While it’s not much, that’s still over 750,000 people. Preserving farmland shows a commitment to the industry. Land loss would create job loss. However, maintaining the farmland — and even reclaiming it, along with pastures — could boost the sector and, therefore, the economy. It would provide unemployed people with job security.
  • Secondary markets: Farmers are just one part of the food business. Because of farmers and farmland, secondary markets can thrive. These would include processing businesses, restaurants, schools, grocery stores and even waste management companies.

Canadian farmers should care about land loss because standing back and allowing companies to overtake the farmland could seriously affect the economy.

  1. Farmland Benefits the Environment

Wildlife often depends upon farmland for both food and habitat. Various types of farmland create diverse habitats for many different species. Without land protection, these habitats and food sources would be destroyed, leaving many animals without a place to survive. Many would have difficulty finding a native habitat.

Additionally, growing crops helps eliminate some of the carbon dioxide released into the air. Air pollution could decrease for Canadian cities as long as no more farmland is used for development.

One major problem occurring with Canadian farmland is desertification. This happens when the soil loses nutrients and becomes barren. The urbanization of Canadian farmland is the primary contributor to desertification, which speeds up climate change and harms the environment. Keeping farmland as-is will slow down climate change.

  1. Land Loss Affects Farmers’ Jobs

Perhaps the main reason why Canadian farmers should care about land loss is because their livelihood could be taken away. If they don’t have the means to keep up with technological advancements in the agricultural industry, they will not be able to continue their jobs if they experience land loss.

Agriculture is an essential industry. Not everyone can pick up the skills needed to grow their own food, and so many people depend upon farmers for nutrition and goods.

Take a Stand to Preserve Farmland

Farmland is a worthwhile and precious resource for many people. Reduction in farmland acreage will hurt Canadian farmers and the rest of the population, the economy and the environment. Taking steps to prevent more land loss can slow the rates of destruction and keep natural habitats thriving for both humans and animalls.

Click here read more stories by Emily Folk. 

I’m Emily Folk, and I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. Growing up I had a love of animals, and after countless marathons of watching Animal Planet documentaries, I developed a passion for ecology and conservation.

Canadian Agriculture More Energy Intensive, More Efficient

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Canadian Agriculture More Energy Intensive, More Efficient

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Canadian Agriculture More Energy Intensive, More Efficient

It’s no secret that agriculture has contributed to climate change through various means. For example, you may know that livestock generates greenhouse gas emissions due to how farms process it. That said, it’s now clear that farmers have found sustainable ways to offset those contributions. In Canada, it’s all about energy use.

Here’s how Canadian farmers have become more efficient as they raise crops and livestock, setting a standard the world should follow.

Energy Demand and Consumption Have Fluctuated

The demand for energy has increased across the agricultural sector as a whole. However, it’s key to note that farmers have begun to use less energy despite that fact. That points to more efficient practices. The farmers who complete their work productively save time, money and energy. As a result, Canadian workers have reduced their energy consumption per dollar by 17%. That’s thanks to sustainability.

The most common energy sources include fuel, gas and electricity. It’s how farmers use those resources that counts. Combined with technology choices and new practices, it’s clear that efficiency is more achievable than ever.

What Contributes to This Phenomenon?

It’s crucial for people in agriculture to explore eco-friendly alternatives. The grasslands that many western Canadian farmers cultivate contains excess carbon, so you can imagine what the country as a whole holds underneath its surface. Farmers have now adopted new methods to adjust how they harvest their crops. These systems are better for production, as well as soil and seed health overall.

The agriculture industry has gone through many changes, too. There are fewer farms — but those that still operate have employed agricultural technology to be as efficient as possible. These tools include different equipment that cuts down on time to increase proficiency. Plus, it’s now more common to use solar power as an alternative to traditional energy solutions.

Why Accuracy and Precision Matters

It’s a lot easier to be energy efficient when you don’t waste your resources. The means farmers practiced before they used specific innovations often created a time deficit. If you have a smaller machine, you likely need to do twice as much work. However, when you have access to equipment that fits your field, you don’t have to be as wasteful. The accuracy and precision created by technology make this a reality.

Soil Conservation Is Led by Ranchers

Many farmers have looked to ranchers for help. It’s a native part of ranching to preserve topsoil and other elements that are inherently sustainable. As a result, it seems like ranchers have been leading the charge against climate change for decades. The tactics they use to avoid tilling soil, for example, help preserve the amount of carbon that lies underneath the Earth’s surface.

The “no-till” practice is efficient in its own right. Rather than till your soil to plant a new crop, you simply leave behind what’s already there. This method is much better for soil nutrition, and it can keep carbon exposure at bay. As a result, you have much fewer carbon emissions. In general, the idea of soil conservation isn’t a new one, but old tricks can still work alongside modern technology.

The Future of Agriculture in Canada Looks Bright

If farmers continue on this path, it’ll be clear that climate solutions are at the forefront of their minds. These efforts create more benefits for them as they save time and money. Plus, there’s always the responsibility of maintaining the planet’s health. After all, without a strong ecosystem, agriculture would suffer. Through means that are more accurate and conservative, Canadian farmers have been able to become more efficient. Click here read more stories by Emily Folk. 

I’m Emily Folk, and I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. Growing up I had a love of animals, and after countless marathons of watching Animal Planet documentaries, I developed a passion for ecology and conservation.



How Canadian Dairy Farms Can Adjust to New Dairy Demand


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