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Canadian parks could grow food, too

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(Read caption) Aspens line a meadow in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. For a century, Canada's national and provincial parks have had untapped potential for small-scale agriculture.

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Forestry and agriculture were once seen as two mutually exclusive functions of land, with the presence of one meaning the total absence of the other. Ecologists saw the development and cultivation of farmland as a force working against their attempts to preserve valuable tracts of untouched land.

But now, in many of Canada’s national and provincial parks, specialists are realizing that small-scale agriculture and forestry can exist side by side – and that they may even benefit from one another. Forests help protect crops from pest infestations and the spread of airborne plant diseases. In turn, agriculture helps contribute to forests’ sustainability by providing food for nearby populations.

This is especially true for forests located on the outskirts of urban areas, where locally grown food can be brought to market with very low transportation costs.

Parks Canada, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, has decided to convert Rouge Park into an urban national park. It will cover 4,700 hectares [11,600 acres] of land, stretching from Lake Ontario in the south to two towns nearly 35 kilometers [22 miles] north. One thousand hectares [2,470 acres] of this has been set aside for agriculture, according to Alan Wells, chair of the Rouge Park Alliance.

Of particular importance, this area is just northeast of the Greater Toronto region, making it an ideal choice for farmers who want to help feed the city.

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