By: Matt Setzkorn
Published November 17, 2016, in the Hamilton Spectator
Now is the time to protect at-risk farmland in Ontario for good.
Collectively, we in the agricultural sector call on the province to freeze all urban expansion and introduce firm, permanent municipal growth boundaries in the Greater Golden Horseshoe to prevent the region's remaining farmland from being paved over and additional farming communities from being displaced.
It's clear that more land for urban development in the region is not needed, with an excess of 25 years' worth of farmland already designated by municipalities to accommodate growth in both urban and rural settlement areas (Neptis Foundation, 2015). An area of prime farmland 1.5 times the size of the City of Toronto is in the process of being rapidly converted to housing subdivisions, warehouses and strip malls.
The proposed changes to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe and Greenbelt Plan fail to protect the majority of our farmers and farmlands from ongoing and poorly-planned urban sprawl. Maintaining policy that enables status quo sprawl makes it difficult to see a future for local food and farming in the region, despite the great economic contributions of the Greater Golden Horseshoe's food and farming sector.
Not just home to the best farmland in Canada, the Greater Golden Horseshoe is home to one of North America's largest agricultural and agri-food industry clusters, with a unique diversity of primary farm production, food processing, food service, food distribution and retail that represents the fastest growing employment sector in Ontario and generates $12.3 billion in annual economic activity.
The Greenbelt protects some of Ontario's countryside, but there are hundreds of thousands of acres that continue to be at-risk and need protection now.
We are at a unique moment in history where there is an opportunity to enact meaningful limits on urban expansion, plan for healthier urban and rural communities, protect our irreplaceable agricultural land resources, and sustain a vibrant and prosperous agri-food economy in the Greater Golden Horseshoe for generations to come.
With an outpouring of public support for a larger provincial role in establishing firm urban boundaries and protecting agricultural land during the Coordinated Land Use Planning Review, now is the time for the province to demonstrate bold leadership to protect agricultural land and farming communities by implementing fixed, permanent urban boundaries on all urban and rural settlement areas in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.
Let's work together to stop urban sprawl, protect farmland forever, support our farmers and create a secure future for farming in Ontario.
Matt Setzkorn is Manager, Land Programs and Policy, Ontario Farmland Trust. He wrote this commentary on behalf of:
Ontario Farmland Trust
Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario
National Farmers Union – Ontario
Golden Horseshoe Food & Farming Alliance
Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario
Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society
Food & Water First
Farms at Work
Land over Landings
Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition
The original can be found here.
"Your article was staggering. What was more jaw-dropping is what has been sacrificed to support Barrie’s previous love of sprawl – 154 square-kilometres (26,000 football fields) of natural and semi-natural space, mostly forest.
Forests and natural spaces aren’t just wasted space. They are irreplaceable systems that filter our water and air as well as support our tourism and recreation industry. In fact, those green spaces have been linked to an increase in residents’ mental health and they make our communities more liveable and happy.
Unfortunate as it is that Barrie lost so much to sprawl, there is hope the city will act more responsibly to preserve its natural environment going forward.
With Simcoe County slated to grow to 667,000 people by 2031, there is an increased demand to grow our communities. At the same time, the county needs to preserve its beaches, forests, farmland and rivers for our health and economy. I believe the Ontario Greenbelt can help achieve that balance.
Tell your local council, MPP and the premier that we want the Greenbelt to grow in Simcoe County.
Margaret Prophet - Co-Chair, Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition"