As avid supporters of the Ontario Farmland Trust (OFT), Mary Simpson and her husband Ross Snider point to the current land grab happening around the world as a precursor for what could happen to Canadian farmland, if organizations like OFT did not exist.

Mary and Ross, who own and operate Old River Farm, an inter-generational family farm in Middlesex County, spent their Covid downtime learning about Bill Gates – One of the largest private farmland owners in the United States. They also read Fred Pearce’s book, The Land Grabbers (2012) that talked about vast acres of farmland being scooped up by corporations, speculators and governments.

Mary has been paying attention to these issues since she was a kid. In 1972, she learned about the United Nations Conference on the environment in Stockholm, the first world conference to make the environment a major issue.

In 1980, she volunteered with the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS), based in the Niagara Peninsula.

In the 1990s, Mary obtained her Masters in Environmental Studies, studying multi-stakeholder Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) land disputes. Ten years later, she attended an early meeting to create the Ontario Farmland Trust, the provincial organization that would support grassroots, farmer-led and community-driven action on farmland protection. In 2004, OFT was incorporated as Canada’s first province-wide agricultural land trust.

Mary has been supporting OFT in one way or another since the beginning and encourages others to do the same.

“Now more than ever we need to step up and make sure our lands are preserved for future generations,” she says. “Arable farmland is a finite resource to be nurtured, protected, and owned by the community. Those who own and farm the land will care for it best.”

Land grabbing, one of the most profound ethical, environmental and economic issues facing the globalized world in the twenty-first century, is contrary to the Old River Farm’s mission to connect the people, organizations, teams, creativity, agriculture and enterprises along both sides of the Thames River and its drainage basin.

On Old River Farm’s 200 acres of rotational grazing are cut by deep ravines. Mary and Ross also support the Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS), an innovative, community-developed and farmer-delivered program that produces and enhances ecosystem services on agricultural lands.

The Old River Farm is near the mouth of the Newbiggen Creek and borders the Deshkan Ziibi, now known as the Thames River, so named in 1793 by Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, after the river in England.

Indigenous neighbours to the farm include the Deshkaan Ziibing Anishinaabeg (Chippewas of the Thames First Nation); two Lenape First Nations (People of the Delaware at Moraviantown and Munsee-Delaware Nation; and the Oneida Nation of the Thames (ONYOTA’A:KA, the People of the Standing Stone).

Mary and Ross encourage others to get involved and donate to OFT so that more farmland can be protected across the province. Learn more about how you can get involved.