Planning for Agriculture in the Shadow of our Cities

September 16, 2005

Last week a plan to keep farmers on the good farmland close to our major cities was launched at a Bolton area vineyard. The Greater Toronto Area Agricultural Action Plan is the result of four years of discussions between farm groups, municipal governments and provincial agencies.

On the one hand the GTA Action Plan views agriculture with fresh eyes. It urges:

  • Better protection for farmland;
  • More secondary uses on farms to support family income;
  • Reform of taxation to encourage on farm valued added activities;
  • Municipal leadership for agricultural economic development;
  • Support for new farmers; and
  • Local production for local markets.

On the other hand the GTA Agricultural Action Plan falls far short of a bold new initiative.

  • Support for the business of farming is still couched in the protection language of existing municipal Official Plans. In Pickering, where the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve exists, the permanent boundary is under attack from the municipal council – at the behest of a well-heeled local developer. Farmers cannot be expected to invest their lives and their savings in the urban shadow without permanency. Near urban agriculture needs a permanent boundary.
  • Supporting value-added activities and secondary uses on farms is on the right track but still stuck in a past that assumes that primary food production, by itself, can sustain a local economy. Agriculture must be redefined to include packing, treating, processing, marketing, selling, sorting or storage of locally grown or raised products. Secondary uses should include all commercial and industrial uses that, when located on farms, support the economic viability of farms and are small scale.
  • Back in June the McGuinty government announced $800,000 to implement the GTA Plan. This one-time funding is coming from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and going to municipalities. Right on, for too long municipalities have assumed that the existence of a provincial farm ministry will guarantee appropriate farm development locally. Farm Minister Dombrowsky was at the launch last week but didn’t announce any money. That might be just as well as OMAFRA seems to be stuck on a future for farming that is all about bigger farms, bulk undifferentiated commodities and exports. Near urban agriculture is about small but legendary farms, unique products and local markets.

The setting for the GTA Agricultural Action Plan launch was wonderful — Chesslawn Vineyard & Winery near Bolton, owned by the Matsons. They are young. The enterprise is new. It is just 7 acres. The farm is located in the protected countryside of the Oak Ridges Moraine. These entrepreneurs believe in a productive and diverse economic countryside. Our planners and politicians have a lot of catching up to do.

Elbert van Donkersgoed

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This commentary was first published as Corner Post, Farm & Countryside Commentary #398

Read about the start up of Chesslawn Vineyard & Winery at http://chesslawnwinery.com/pages/1/index.htm

Read the GTA Agricultural Action Plan at   GTA Agricultural Action Plan.pdf

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