Preserving Farmland: TYFPC Community Musings

The TYFPC community got together to talk about farmland preservation this month, and this is what we came up with!

A copy of this document can also be downloaded here.

Discussion Group #1: Farmland Preservation and Ontario Politics

This group discussed issues which could be politicized within the context of provincial/federal elections and other political stages.

1) Preventing Farm Banks

The practice of buying up Ontario farmland and selling it out to foreign interests (families or companies) should be limited or prevented by the provincial government. It takes control of land out of the hands of Ontario farmers and communities. We’d prefer to see vulnerable land protected from development and foreign interest by farming co-ops or collectives. A variety of cooperative farming models are seen in Ontario (McVean, Monforte) and abroad (Italy, Cuba, etc). These co-ops can also take the form of groups which combine farming and art, or follow the model of intentional communities or eco-villages.

2) How can farming be a viable livelihood?

Some farmers want to be able to sell their land as it’s their major source of reliable income, and find campaigns to prevent development of agricultural land unfair.

Good News – food was on the radar in the federal election

  • It’s easier to get land use on the radar in the federal election since farming and land use are provincial concerns

3) How to encourage engagement in complex policy issues such as quarries and farmland preservation?

  • tax incentives? Owners must pay back taxes on farmland if they have it rezoned or sell to developers?
  • a model like the land transfer tax that could be implemented in rural areas?
  • Simple messaging is key, “Pave or Save?” rather than trying to explain complex issues to new groups
  • Farm field trips as a way to give urban adults and youth a tangible experience on a farm and build a personal connection to the issues
  • Sustain Ontario is working on a position on food for the provincial election, including 5 priority issues and a toolkit for local growers
  • What about section 37 money (paid by developers in Toronto for community amenities when a new building goes up) as a model for rural areas? Developers must put an equal amount of land or a certain amount of money into land preservation for each project they build
  • social media and election blogs are key to share info about farms and preservation issues
  • Educating youth is key so that in 20 years when they make the decisions they’ll be engaged in these issues.


Discussion Group #2: Assuring Livable Farm Incomes for Small Farms

This group addressed the recurring issue of sustainable farming incomes as a precursor for the continued viability of Ontario farmland, and came up with the following ideas:

  • eliminating farm subsidies that privilege larger operations
  • encouraging small markets that scale better with smaller farming operations
  • reducing fossil fuel inputs (eg. machinery, fertilizers, transportation and shipping) and employing organic methocs to reduce on-farm costs
  • recognizing that the lure of biofuels (farmers can get paid more for them than food) reflects a blindness to issues of hunger, food access, and fair food prices within the modern food system
  • challenging the “cheaper is better” food paradigm
  • recognizing the value of agricultural experiences and increasing the amount of free help on farms via internship programs, education programs on farms, and volunteer programs
  • increasing youth engagement and awareness on university campuses
  • educating youth on where our food comes from, and the problem of collapsing farm incomes


Discussion Group #3: Strengthening Rural-Urban Collaboration and Cooperation Within the Food System

This group discussed system-scale changes, both the material and social, which need to take place in order to encourage rural-urban collaboration

Issues and Barriers:

  • increasing the level of food education and food literacy is a shared concern within both rural and urban communities
  • various transportation-related constraints impede collaboration and communication: these include the capital required to buy a vehicle, underdeveloped/inaccessible rail networks, and the lack of ride-sharing of safe hitchhiking networks
  • more opportunities must be created for farmers to make a living off of agricultural activities, to keep rural spaces economically sustainable
  • current leasing practices, such as the requirement of relatively long-term leases, way prevent new farmers from accessing land and persuing agriculture
  • developers often hold onto parcels of potentially useful land while awaiting development
  • waterfront properties require special considerations

Moving Forward:

  • creating a culture / sense of community that recognizes interconnectedness will help realize mutual goals
  • fostering mutual respect is likewise a precursor for collaboration
  • the environmental impacts of agriculture can be a mutual point of concern and collaboration
  • experimenting with communal living may make it easier for enagement and travel between rural-urban divides
  • teaching children more about the agricultural origins of their food will help get at the roots of our society’s mental divide
  • using rural spaces as vacation or travel destinations can be a novel way of engaging urbanites
  • using urban spaces for urban agriculture and community gardening can likewise expose urbanites to agricultural dynamics, potentially turn some onto farming and agriculture
  • festivals like the Royal Winter Fair are effective at creating hybrid spaces
  • working models in other regions should be surveyed and duplicated
  • innovative or alternative agricultural approaches, such as permaculture, could be more thoroughly integrated
  • dynamic and interactive food education/curricula that is responsive to the diverse backgrounds of local kids can improve awareness of food issues


Discussion Group #4: Redundant Food Trade (and how limiting it can encourage more sustainable food procurement practices)

This group tackled the specific issue of redundant food trade and identified the following issues as being relevant for creating a more sustainable, localized food system:

  • Redundant trade = food being grown in point A, sent to point B, sent to point C, and back to point A
  • Labeling –addressing the “made in Canada” loophole, which does not account for redundant trade
  • Challenging trade agreements which encourage or facilitate redundant trade, and outlining more progressive trade agreements
  • Food “ownership”
  • Local food in mainstream food outlets
  • GMOs
  • Creating incentives for people who want to buy local food
  • Changing paradigms
  • Different marketing schemes

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