EDITORIAL: Strategic secondary planning includes preservation of farmland

Growing up in Prince Edward County’s agriculture sector (read family), your humble scribe was often inundated with those catchy, pro-farming slogans that would adorn the back of a hay wagon, the cab of a tractor or the swinging door of a milkhouse.

“If ate today, thank a farmer” ,“If the man doesn’t work, we don’t eat” “Every day is a good day to be a farmer” etc. Another in the self-deprecating bin was “Screw a farmer; everyone else does”.

Jokes aside, the importance of having families work the local fields was never lost on myself and most of who have grown up in the County. Given this community’s heritage as Canada’s Fruit basket from a time when a whopping 1/3 of all of the nation’s fruits and vegetables were grown and canned here, it’s hard for some to traverse the concession roads and not recall seeing hundreds of acres of produce in production.

The fruit and vegetable acreage matrix has evolved from those idyllic days with grapes now a larger part of that growing discipline while grain crops are more prevalent than ever. The practice of agriculture in Prince Edward County continues from the times of Indigenous peoples who grew the three sisters of corn, beans and squash to the era when Loyalists broke ground with a horse and plow to today when modern farming barely resembles any of the historical growing that took place in centuries prior.

Farmers are well versed in the art of getting more out of less and scientific gains in varietal modification have made for increased yields of the grains and oilseeds that feed and clothe the planet. But simply feeding Ontarians could be a struggle without some form of restriction on housing developments popping up all over the province.

Earlier this month, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture issued a worrisome pronouncement on the loss of farmable acreage due to urban sprawl. Ontario’s top farming advocacy organization is asking municipal governments to protect farmland and food production when planning new developments. Stats Canada’s 2021 Census of Agriculture shows Canada’s most populus province is losing an average of 319 farming acres per day-the equivalent of one family farm.

That’s a drastic increase over the 2016 Census that showed daily average losses at 175 acres per day.

“To see a daily loss of 319 acres of farmland is a shocking jolt of reality that is simply not sustainable if we hope to have any kind of food sovereignty or independence in Ontario,” says Peggy Brekveld, President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.

The Federation notes farmland is a finite-but-diminishing resource and the availability of prime agricultural land is fundamental to Ontario’s future.

“A country’s ability to feed its own population is an important pillar of a well-functioning and sustainable society.”

In Prince Edward County, we can see growable acres swallowed up in incremental chunks. The latest loss of farmland will be the fields of the former Townline Farms, one-of, if not-the-last-independent grower/canners in the municipality to close when it was sold to PEC Farms back in the early 2000’s.

Given the status of the housing crisis in this community and our clear position that any housing is much needed housing, it’s inherently difficult to argue against the Cork & Vine development that will see the village of Wellington expand northwards along Belleville Street but we note it’s not without the permanent and dear cost of 360 acres of a key resource.

“What will that look like in 10, 50 or 100 years if left unchecked?” asks Brekveld. “We are not saying don’t build. We get the province has to accommodate growth. What we’re saying is build in the right places through long-term strategic land-use planning.”

Much has been made of Secondary Plans recently. We would request on behalf of farmers and the Ontarians they feed that preservation of acres in production be the key jumping off point when it comes to development approval.

Once farmland is gone, it’s gone forever -along with the ability of this province to feed itself. The housing crunch many face in this community is a terrifying proposition. Perhaps the only thing scarier than not having a roof over your head is being at the mercy of foreign block chains and no affordable food in the grocery store.

-Jason Parks

PICTURING OUR COMMUNITY

On Friday the County of Prince Edward renamed Millenium Lookout in honour of the late James Taylor, the amalgamated municipality’s first Mayor. Taylor, who also served as an MPP for this area for 16 years, was represented by his children (From Left) Tim, Kim, Cynthia and Jim. (County of Prince Edward photo)