Federal election #3: Pontiacers speak about environmental issues

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Our Environment by Katharine Fletcher

As the federal election approaches, I asked three Pontiac residents to identify their most pressing environmental issues here and globally. Norway Bay resident, Phillip Holmes reveals his thoughts.
KF: Please explain who you are.

Our Environment by Katharine Fletcher

As the federal election approaches, I asked three Pontiac residents to identify their most pressing environmental issues here and globally. Norway Bay resident, Phillip Holmes reveals his thoughts.
KF: Please explain who you are.
PH: I’m a teacher at Pontiac High School, a municipal councillor for Bristol and a farmer. I live in Norway Bay but farm 100 acres in Clarendon on the banks of the Ottawa River, land that has been in my family for five generations. I raise grass-fed beef plus pastured pork, chicken, eggs and turkeys. I direct-market all the meat to regional customers.
“Grass-fed” refers to ruminants like cattle and sheep that eat nothing but their mothers’ milk and grass throughout their lives (pasture in summer, hay in
winter). They don’t require corn and grain. “Pastured” describes animals such as our pigs and poultry that spend most of their time outside on pasture – yet they need grains to supplement their diet.
KF: What are the three most pressing Pontiac-related environmental issues?
PH: Sustainable agriculture is key (cover crop, no-till and animal grazing methods) to improve soil health and carbon sequestration (taking carbon out of the atmosphere). Growing cover crops uses plants versus artificial fertilizers to nourish soil, where crops are grown and left on fields to compost into the soil. This reduces erosion, sequesters carbon and increases soil quality.
Instead of tilling land, farmers can use special “no till” seed drills to plant directly into these cover crops, allowing the natural biology of the soil and the carbon to remain in the soil. Rotational grazing and mob grazing mimics how large herds of ruminants once grazed. These animals heavily graze an area for a very short period before moving to a new area. This encourages new growth,
fertilizes the land and allows time for plants to regrow. I believe our new government must encourage and support innovative farmers to practice these methods.
Second is the health of our rivers and waterways. Our rivers and lakes are at the center of our history, recreation, tourism industry, and lives as Pontiacers and we must take care of them and continue to work on understanding their health. I cannot begin to speculate on the true causes of the past two floods. However, a proper inquiry that reveals whether they were natural or in some part a result of human error will help us avoid and understand future floods. We also must be aware of the potential effects of nuclear waste storage (as proposed at Chalk River) close to the Ottawa River.
Thirdly, although cutting carbon emissions is important, carbon sequestration must become a focus for rural areas. Money invested in pasture-based agriculture and reforestation won’t only help improve the environment, but would boost the economy. Increased small, sustainable farms mean more farmers, population growth and more local jobs.
KF: What’s the most crucial global environmental issue?
PH: Our food, where it comes from and what it is, is crucial for our health and that of the environment, so the new federal government must promote sustainable agriculture. We must place emphasis on local food production and distribution, plus pasture-based livestock. There’s much talk about how vegan diets will “save the environment” but honestly, ruminants play a huge role in carbon sequestration.
Carbon sequestration requires trees, fields and healthy soils (pasture), not soils that are tilled every year to grow soy, corn and wheat. I acknowledge some large-scale cash croppers have found some amazing ways to sustainably grow these products using cover crops and no-till methods of farming.
Changes in regulations (especially in Québec) and an influx of money to
smaller-scale, sustainable farmers, local food-distribution systems, plus development of agro-tourism projects will all boost the economy in the Pontiac and lead to a healthier environment.
Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer, author, and visual artist. Contact her at fletcher.katharine@gmail.com and view her art at
facebook.com/KatharineFletcherArtist/