Organic farmers in Gatineau donate property to eco land trust

August 7, 2021
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Access-to-information guru Ken Rubin and his wife, Debbie, have donated their organic farm beside Gatineau Park to a land trust in order to return the property to its natural state and protect it from development.

The Rubins owned the farm — almost 15 hectares at the foot of the Eardley Escarpment in Pontiac — for 44 years. It was time, they decided, to ensure the place they love will remain unspoiled.

“We’ve watched houses go up around us, and I couldn’t imagine people subdividing our land and putting up more houses,” said Debbie Rubin, an artist and retired teacher. “It is kind of in my soul, the land, because it has been part of our lives and our family for so long.”

Ken Rubin, best known as an environmental activist and public interest researcher, said he felt it was important to protect something that has so enriched his life. “I want to protect its long-term health,” he said. “Mother Earth only has so many acres.”

The Rubins have donated the property to the ACRE Land Trust, a Chelsea-based conservation group dedicated to supporting the ecological integrity of Gatineau Park. The land transfer became official Friday.

“We’re very grateful to the Rubins: They could have sold it for development but they made the decision not to,” said Stephen Woodley, president of ACRE. “This is a great legacy to the community.”

The ACRE Land Trust now has seven properties. Woodley said the Rubin farm — the trust’s largest ecological gift — will be held in perpetuity as a conservation area that will be known as “Place Eco Rubin.” It will be dedicated, he said, to low-impact ecological research and environmental education.

Woodley said the property features a stream, a wood lot and hay fields that will eventually be naturalized, along with a host of vulnerable species such as chorus frogs, eastern whip-poor-wills, and butternut trees. The property is important as a development buffer, he said, and forms part of an ecological corridor that links Gatineau Park to the Ottawa River.

“All land that is ecologically valuable needs to be connected because life works in a connected way,” said Woodley, the former chief scientist at Parks Canada. “If we fragment these landscapes, the bits that are remaining become ecological islands, and you get much less biodiversity.”

As part of the land trust agreement, Rubin can continue to tend his organic garden on the property as long as he wants. A newly formed stewardship committee will work on plans to open the land to visitors and hikers.

The Rubins bought the property in the late 1970s. It featured a small cabin and a tool shed, and had no electricity or running water. The family camped on the site as they learned to grow vegetables and flowers using organic methods.

“We really started from scratch,” Ken Rubin said, “because neither one of us came from farm backgrounds. It took about five years to get the rhythm and flow.”

After their two children were born, the Rubins bought a trailer to make it more comfortable, but the site remains without water or electricity.

The Rubins lived in Ottawa and worked on the farm two or three days a week during growing season. For many years, they grew carrots, squash, green beans, basil and flowers, such as baby’s breath snapdragons and statice, which were sold to local restaurants, hotels, florists and funeral homes, or donated to food banks.

Ken Rubin continues to grow vegetables and flowers on the farm, but this year’s spring drought, he said, has ruined his carrots and beets.

Although he has been an organic farmer for most of his adult life, Rubin is best known as someone who digs for information rather than root vegetables.

After lobbying for passage of Canada’s 1982 Access to Information Act, Rubin became one of the country’s leading experts in its use. During the last four decades, he has filed thousands of information requests, argued with countless bureaucrats and appeared in court regularly to make his case for the disclosure of documents.

Rubin’s access requests often focused on topics close to his heart: genetically modified organisms, environmental protection, climate change and food safety.

Now 77, Rubin said he has always loved walking the creek beds of his Pontiac property and exploring its wood lot. He has seen it in every season and in every kind of weather, and loved them all — even through the worst of the black flies.

“You see nature at work,” he said. “It’s a very special feeling.”

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