Farm Energy Profiles

As part of the Agricultural Energy Transitions project, the GeoREACH Lab has been using data from censuses, diaries, and other routinely generated sources to create a number of environmental and economic profiles of Canadian farms in the late nineteenth century. These “energy profiles” help us understand the various strategies that settlers followed to produce energy from the forest, fields, and waters that made up local agro-ecosystems. In particular, they reveal the role that livestock played as bioconverters, and they help us understand both the circular economy and the energetic surpluses available in rural Canada in the settlement period. 

Energy profiles are created for each agro-ecosystem (both at the farm and the census subdivision level) using the tools of social ecological metabolism research and environmental history. Using a set of historically accurate estimates and assumptions, we calculate the energy outputs available from all crop produce, residues, and animal products. We also consider energy inputs from human and non-human actors, particularly the portion of each farm’s feed and litter that was consumed by livestock and converted, in turn, into new energy outputs. The primary data source for these profiles are the detailed census manuscripts from the 1871 Census of Canada.  Three schedules contain essential information on every property that produced field, animal, and forest products in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Schedule 4 is a “Return of Cultivated Land, of Field Products and of Plants and Fruits”; Schedule 5 includes “Live Stock, Animal Products, home-made Fabrics and Furs”; and Schedule 7 is the “Return of Products of the Forest.”  The results provide insights into the varying composition and production of Canadian farms, and, importantly, they also include properties with fewer than 5 acres which census officials enumerated but ultimately excluded from the printed summaries.

To better understand the context in which these farms operated and the social history behind them, the GeoREACH Lab is compiling a series of farm profiles. These profiles will provide a brief background into the families that lived on these farms, the farm’s energy funds (components of the agroecosystem that persisted over multiple years and decades), its energy flows (components of the agroecosystem that generally changed annually), and an analysis of the farm’s energy strategy. We then compare each farm with a profile of the larger census subdivision (eg. township) in which it appeared. The result allows us to compare individual family strategies within their geographic context and to compare them to  farms in different areas.

Please see our 150 Year Energy Audit Introduction, view the collection of Farm Profiles, or visit the individual profiles:

  1. The Woodworth Farms and Shubenacadie, Hants, Nova Scotia
  2. The Andrew Hay Johnson Farm and Falmouth, Hants, Nova Scotia
  3. The Wilford VanWart Farm and Hampstead, Queens, New Brunswick
  4. The Angus Fisher Russell Farm and Glenelg, Northumberland County, New Brunswick
  5. The Yuill Farms and Ramsay, Lanark County, Ontario
  6. The John Orser Farm (Rice Lake) and Alnwick, Northumberland County, Ontario
  7. Energy on the Philip Maher Farm and Windsor, Richmond, Quebec
  8. Energy on the Thomas Maltais Farm and Jonquière, Chicoutimi, Québec
  9. Energy on the Christian B. Snyder and Joseph Snyder Farm and the Waterloo North CSD, North Waterloo, Ontario
Fig. 1: Map of planned farm profiles. Suggestions are welcome, particularly in Quebec. Please contact Dr. MacFadyen or comment, below. Note, the focus of the research at this point is the four provinces for which agricultural data were recorded in 1871, plus PEI based on supplementary research. We examine the energy history of agriculture in Western Canada in other studies, and we hope to develop farm-level case studies there as well, in due course.


Drs. Geoff Cunfer, Simone Gingrich, Fridolin Krausmann, and Andrew Watson were instrumental in the early phases of this research and in the conceptual development of the material and energy flows accounting model. In the 2019-2021 period, student research assistants at the UPEI GeoREACH Lab contributed a great deal to data entry and to the development of the AMPA, including Alexandra Neumann, Nolan Kressin, and Bailey Clark. More recently, Dr. Margot Maddison-MacFadyen and Barbara Rousseau have been a great help with the creation of individual farm and CSD profiles.

Glossary and Acronyms

Agroecosystem: the total funds, including farmland (cropland, pasture, and woodland), non-human animals, and other wildland that produce and consume energy flows. Note, humans, including the farm family themselves, are considered as separate from the agroecosystem, so their consumption and labour are external flows.

AMPA: Agroecosystem Metabolic Profile Application. An integrated spreadsheet and data visualization tool developed by the GeoREACH Lab (2019-2021), building on the work of the Sustainable Farm Systems project (2014-2018)

CD: Census District, typically corresponding to a County jurisdiction.

CSD: Census SubDistrict, typically corresponding to a township, district or parish.

Energy Flows: components of the agroecosystem that generally changed annually.

Energy Funds: components of the agroecosystem that persisted over multiple years and decades.

Energy Strategy: the prevailing energy focal points of the humans inhabiting an agroecosystem.

1 thought on “Farm Energy Profiles

  1. Feel free to suggest new farms that we should profile in this section. The only criteria are that it existed in 1871 and we can find it in the Census (we can search for farms through their Lot & Concession address or, more commonly, through the name of the head of household).

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