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Dundas County farm uses SARFIP to build bat boxes; plant trees for pollinators

An endangered Little Brown Bat, such as the ones for which Shelley and Tony Spruit are hanging boxes on their farm in Dundas County.  Courtesy of OSCIA.

December 29, 2014 - Shelley and Tony Spruit have been farming together for more than a quarter century, the last 16 years of which in Dundas County just outside of Winchester. Their original 200-acre farm was home to large herbal and show gardens and an on-site banquet hall that hosted weddings, retreats, agricultural meetings and other events.

After selling that part of their business, they purchased an additional 50 acre farm nearby and although they’d both always been passionate about land stewardship, they felt they now finally had the time and experience they needed to develop a teaching farm.

Their new property, which included some areas of marginal crop land, had been badly neglected for the past 15 years, so they set about cleaning up debris, removing invasive species and investigating what might be best suited to this type of land.

“During our hours of research, we became aware of the dire need of our bees and butterflies and also native habitat.  We, farmers who have lived in the area most of our adult lives, were shocked to find that there are 13 species which are at risk in our area, that most of our turtles are endangered and that two local birds are on the high priority list because of loss of habitat,” explains Shelley. “We realized that if we wanted to be called ‘stewards of the land’, we had better step up and do something.”

So they got to work. Their first SARFIP project was to design and develop windbreaks by planting native trees on the property. Subsequently they created a pollinator habitat by planting meadow and native tall grasses, trees, shrubs and flowers so that pollinators will be able to feed, breed and establish colonies.

They’ve also built bat boxes on their property as habitats for the Little Brown Bat, an endangered species in Ontario. Bats are essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems as they eat a lot of insects, including farm pests, but bat populations are declining around the world, including Ontario, often because of disappearing habitat.

Partnerships have been key in all of their efforts, says Shelley, citing help the Spruits received, in addition to their SARFIP funding, from Michelle Cavanagh of the South Nation Conservation Authority and Brandan Jacobs of Ontario East Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS).

“It has been a steep learning curve for us but everyone has been incredibly helpful and encouraging,” she says. “Tony and I are honoured to be a part of something that is so much bigger than us. We believe that we must take responsibility for the degradation of our ecosystem and, as farmers, we can make positive changes that will affect generations to come.”

SARFIP is a cost-share program delivered by OSCIA and funded by Environment Canada and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. The program aims to help farmers adopt Best Management Practices (BMPs) to enhance the farm operation, while supporting local species at risk, improving forests, grasslands, wetlands and wildlife.

To be eligible to participate in SARFIP, Ontario farm businesses must have a completed Environmental Farm Plan (EFP). Candidates can then select eligible BMP categories from the SARFIP list that relate to an action identified in their farm’s EFP Action Plan.

SARFIP is currently available for the 2014-2015 cropping season and the claim deadline has been extended to January 15, 2015. Potential applicants can download and application and forms at http://www.ontariosoilcrop.org/en/programs/species_at_risk.htm


January 5, 2015
By Lilian Schaer / Ontario Soil & Crop Improvement Association