Farm closures sow dissent

Students protest upcoming closure of Kingston’s two prison farms

Tom Howes, PHE ’11 (second from left), attends the protest in front of Frontenac Institution to support the prison’s farm, which is set to close in the next two years.
Tom Howes, PHE ’11 (second from left), attends the protest in front of Frontenac Institution to support the prison’s farm, which is set to close in the next two years.

If Kingston’s two prison farms are closing down, it won’t be without a fight.

Last week, a group of Queen’s students and community members protested the closures in front of Frontenac Institution, a minimum-security prison on Bath Rd.

Corrections Canada announced in February it’s closing the country’s six prison farms, including Kingston’s farms at Frontenac and Pittsburgh Institutions.

The other four are located in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick.

All of the farms will be closed within two years.

Inmates at the six institutions work on the farms, which supply meat and produce locally.

Tom Howes, PHE ’11 and a Gaels quarterback, attended the protest.

He brought along several of his teammates.

“One of my cousins was a manager of the prison farm way back in the day and also my friend’s dad is a big supporter of it, so he asked us to show up and give our support,” he said.

Howes said growing up on a farm made him realize agriculture’s important role in a community.

“The farms supply a lot of local produce and that’s a much healthier choice than a lot of the stuff we get in the stores,” he said. “It’s a great option to have.”

Jeff Peters, member of the National Farmers’ Union and Cattle Association, said he doesn’t understand why the government wants to shut down the prison farms.

He said the Farmers’ Union met with one of the politicians responsible, Minister of Public Safety Peter Van Loan and asked him to explain the situation.

“He told us it was because they lost $4 million in revenue and we questioned that because the dairy farms around here are quite lucrative,” he said.

Peters said he thinks the farms provide inmates with useful skills.

“The skills you learn on the prison farm are transferrable to a construction job in Toronto, for example,” he said. “You have to work in a group, you have to be punctual, you’re responsible for being part of a team and taking direction and so on, and we’ve heard that from the inmates themselves.”

Peters said he believes the

inmates’ farm duties, which include caring for animals, provide them with a unique form of rehabilitation.

“It’s been proven working with animals can improve your self-respect,” he said, adding that some of the inmates have taken on extra duties in caring for livestock.

“They’ll get up in the middle of the night to check cows that are about to give birth when they really don’t need to do that,” he said. “They’re quite proud of the things they’ve done.” According to pro-prison farms campaign group Save Our Farms, Frontenac Institution supplies milk to all federal prisons at a price to the government of 28 cents a carton. Peters said once the farms are closed, the food the inmates once grew for themselves could instead be imported from the United States.

The local economy and local consumers also might suffer from this, he said. “In some cases, the food bank in Kingston has received lots of eggs from the food operation at Frontenac,” he said. “One of the farms supplies a huge number of stores local beef and pork and lamb.”

Peters said he’s worried the city will commercialize the land once the farms have been closed. There’s a 1,000-acre plot at Frontenac Institution, he said.

“That’s prime agricultural land,” he said. “We think it should be protected.”

The National Farmers’ Union and Cattle Association will stage a protest at St. Lawrence College this week. Everyone is welcome to attend.

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