Growing pains farmers
Jim Partridge looks over one of his fields at his Oro-Medonte farm Tuesday. The local farmer is concerned about urban sprawl and its effect on the future of farming in our region. Mark Wanzel/Barrie Examiner/Postmedia Network
Grassroots organizations have joined forces to battle for green spaces instead of greenfield developments.
Ontario’s farm organizations, which is comprised of 78,000 farmers, are sending a united message to the province stressing the government must freeze urban boundaries to stop urban sprawl.
“I work towards the preservation of agricultural land for agriculture,” said Jim Partridge, president of the Simcoe County Federation of Agriculture.
Working on a tractor beside his 100 head of cattle on his farm in Oro-Medonte Township, Partridge said he’s worried about the province’s reluctance to protect prime farmland.
Partridge said Ontario is currently self-sustaining in that it’s able to feed its own people, but fears as the planet’s food requirements grow during the next 50 years, the proposed urbanization of prime farmland could spell disaster.
“I do know once you pave agricultural land, you’re not going to use it to feed anybody. It’s a resource that’s got to be maintained,” he said.
In its Nov. 30 press release, Keith Currie, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, asked the province to strengthen its stance on protecting farm families and communities.
“The province needs to impose real boundaries on urban expansion,” Currie said.
Currie is joined by 15 agriculture organizations, including Ontario Farmland Trust, Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, National Farmers Union-Ontario and the Golden Horseshoe Food & Farming Alliance.
The group contends the province’s population growth projection of 4.5 million new residents by 2041 is being used by developers to demand more farmland be designated for urban uses in the Greater Golden Horseshoe of southern Ontario.
However, independent research by the Neptis Foundation says the land already assigned is enough for the next 25 years.
Neptis is an independent, privately funded charitable foundation that disseminates research, analysis and mapping related to the design of Canadian urban regions.
In its 2013 report, Implementing the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Neptis found about 107,100 hectares of land - or an area about 1.5 times the size of the city of Toronto - has been set aside as designated greenfield (developable land) by municipalities across the Greater Golden Horseshoe under the Growth Plan for future urban use between 2006-2031.
Marcy Burchfield, executive director of Neptis, states that in the province’s Growth Plan, 52,000 hectares is in the Inner Ring, which includes the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Hamilton. The Outer Ring, which includes Simcoe County, as well as Brant and Peterborough counties, and other municipalities, makes up the more than 50,000 hectares the province has deemed usable greenfields for development.
And that, Burchfield points out, doesn’t include Barrie’s annexed land, areas of Simcoe County’s land exempted from the growth plan, but included in the province’s Amendment 1, as in the Springwater Township proposed developments.
Burchfield said not all greenfields are currently designated prime farmland, but much of it will be.
What’s additionally daunting to the organizations concerned about future growth, is the province’s proposal of additional population above and beyond what’s included in its original Places to Grow program.
Nancy Farrer, director of planning services in Collinwood said her staff’s initial response to the government’s proposal of increasing its target of 50 residents/jobs per hectare to 80 residents was a firm no.
“We submitted a response to the province a little while ago saying, basically, we do can do 50, but no way can we do 80 people per hectare,” Farrer said.
She points out although Collingwood currently has a mix of homes, semi-detached homes, townhomes and four-or five-storey apartments, they’d have to build large apartments or condominiums to accommodate that sort of population.
In Simcoe County’s planning office, manager of policy and planning Kathy Suggitt said they will continue to study what the effect will be across the county.
On average, the county has 39 people/jobs per hectare, with some areas as high as 50 and others as low as 32, she said.
“We’re not the GTA, and the numbers have to reflect the character of the smaller communities,” Suggitt said.
In addition to the farm association, other organizations calling for the freeze on urban boundary expansions including Sustain Ontario, ecological Farmers Association of Ontario, Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society, Food & Water First, Farms at work, FarmStart, Land Over Landings, Langford Conservancy, Sustainable Brant and the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.
Ontario Farmland Trust chairperson Norm Ragetlie said he hopes the outpouring of public support for a review of the province’s plans for urbanization catches on.
“We are at a unique moment in history, where there is an opportunity for the province to demonstrate real leadership in growth planning by enacting meaningful limits on urban expansion,” Ragetlie said. “Everyone wins when we design better planned, healthier urban and rural communities, while also creating environment for farming and the agri-food economy to remain prosperous, and working together to protect farmland forever.”