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culture

Making Soup for a Cause, Part Three

Opponents of the mega-quarry in Melancthon Township bring their cause to Toronto, via broth and ladles.

This is the third in a series of profiles of the farmers involved with Soupstock, a soup-focused food festival that will take place at Woodbine Park on October 21. The event is intended to raise awareness of (and money for) the fight against a proposed mega-quarry in Melancthon, a township located in northern Dufferin County. Locals fear the quarry will destroy farmland and interrupt the area’s water supply.

Ralph Armstrong
Farming experience: Personally, over fifty years. But his family has tended the land since the mid-19th century.
Crops: Livestock (cattle and sheep) and grain.

Ralph Armstrong’s farm fits the average city dweller’s idyllic idea of rural life. The driveway leads to a collection of farm vehicles and roaming barnyard cats. Armstrong’s cattle hang around the barn, and they seem shy around the strangers who have descended upon them. A narrow staircase leads up to a loft filled with row upon row of hay rolls stacked to the rafters. It’s the sort of place you imagine escaping to for a break from Toronto.

Back on the ground floor of the barn, a flock of sheep crowd around a fence to enjoy their lunch. Armstrong adopted the fluffy animals after his children raised them for a 4H project. He takes a sheep aside and shows us one of the quirks of the species: apart from molars, the tops of their mouths have no teeth.

Armstrong has hardly been sheepish when it comes to the mega-quarry. Described by some Melancthon Township residents as “the moral centre of the community” when Torontoist talked to him three years ago, Armstrong was a founder of the North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Taskforce, one of the first groups to mobilize against the proposed quarry.

Armstrong’s experience with mega-quarry developer Highland Companies illustrates the pressure farmers in Melancthon have faced. Different representatives of the company expressed interest in his land before leaving Armstrong and his wife Mary Lynne alone for several weeks. During that time, Armstrong grew suspicious, especially as other farmers mentioned offers they had received. As rumours circulated about who had sold out and who hadn’t, the community’s stress level rose. Armstrong figured if everyone else let their properties go, he’d have little choice but to do the same. “You can’t farm there by yourself,” he said, laughing.

What followed was a scene straight out of a movie. One evening, a Highland representative dropped by Armstrong’s home and walked straight to his kitchen table. The representative claimed his company needed the property to create a 2,000 acre farm. He left an agreement and cheque on the table, then walked out the door. Armstrong was given a day or two to decide his course of action.

“I was awake one night,” Armstrong notes, “and I thought ‘this isn’t right, so I can’t do it.’ Once we decided that, I could relax.”

Armstrong is concerned that the mega-quarry would lead to increased truck traffic, and negative effects on the purity and supply of local groundwater. The proposal, he said, includes digging a gorge deeper than Niagara Falls. “Where is my water going to go?” he wondered.

He was asked to help with Soupstock by Michael Stadtländer, who he thanks for publicizing the battle against the project.

Armstrong feels that the next generation in Melancthon is inclined to continue in the agricultural business. He hopes they’ll have that opportunity.

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