A turning point for prison farm restoration?

This week could be a turning point for the prison farm campaign. On Aug. 8, we saw the sixth anniversary of the massive blockades at Collins Bay, and a substantial crowed celebrated those who have kept a weekly vigil since 2010. And Tuesday, Aug. 16 is the government’s public consultation on the prison farm restoration.

The official 6 p.m. consultation at City Hall will be preceded by a public rally at 4:30 p.m. in Confederation Basin. Speakers from the campaign will be joined with musicians, including Sarah Harmer and Chris Brown, along with former prison farm worker Pat Kincaid.

Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, will also be in Kingston that day for the events.

The future of the prison farms could now hinge on the size of the turnout on Tuesday night, and the strength of the community’s stand.

As we have seen, the prison farm movement has been persistent and enduring.

A core group of prison farm supporters have held a vigil in front of Collins Bay Penitentiary every Monday night since August, 2010. These dedicated people have been there in every kind of weather, regardless of heat, cold, wind, rain, for well over three hundred Mondays.

The number of vigil-keepers has varied over the years, but always a core group has kept the flame going. That core group was recognized by Dianne Dowling on behalf of Save Our Prison Farms at the sixth anniversary vigil.

“It’s inspiring and valuable to the campaign that they’ve kept the issue in front of the public through their persistence,” said Dowling. Save Our Prison Farms awarded each of the core vigil-keepers a gift: a set of cards based on a painting by local artist Ann Barlow. Barlow’s painting depicts a calf named Hope, the first calf in the Pen Farm Herd Co-op.

That herd, as you may know, was formed out of former prison farm cows bought at auction by prison farm supporters. Sustained by community shareholders (mostly families and small groups), the Pen Farm Herd Co-op has grown in the last six years.

According to Meela Melnik-Proud, the Co-op’s secretary, the number of shareholders in the group has grown—reaching 100 members in its first week in August, 2010, it now has over 200.

And the herd now numbers 19 cows, seven heifers, and 10 calves, hosted by eight different farms in the area.

Co-op members are itching to see those animals finally restored to the prison farm where they belong. And after six years of continuing to advocate for the restoration, they hope to see swift progress after the official public consultation concludes.

Furthermore, events of the past six years have only underscored the importance of protecting the prison farm lands. Increasing food prices and extreme weather associated with climate change make it clear that we need to take good care of every bit of farmland we have.

And if the community response on Tuesday night is as strong as it’s been in the past, the prison farm movement might finally be approaching the finish line.

Aric McBay

Aric McBay is an author, farmer, and organizer.