Across Ontario farmland is being paved over, dug up and converted to other uses by both citizens of Ontario and foreign companies. The proposed mega-quarry in Melancthon Township has caught the attention of both rural and urban residents concerned about the loss of farmland and our ability to feed ourselves down the road. With the increased awareness, this is an ideal time to bring the issues of aggregate removal and foreign ownership of farmland to the campaign trail.
The Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) says that ‘prime agricultural areas shall be protected for long-term use for agriculture’. However, there are several exemptions that apply, including for the extraction of aggregate resources (aggregates coarse materials, like rocks and gravel, used in construction). Under the PPS, aggregate extraction is considered an interim use of land, and once aggregates are removed the farmland must be rehabilitated to its original use. As farmers know, farmland with gravel or limestone underneath, is generally more valuable as farmland because of the enhanced natural drainage provided by the aggregates, making it impossible to return the land to its original value as farmland.
Each year more and more farmland in Ontario is lost to aggregate extraction, especially from areas close to urban centres. These cheap, close to point of use, aggregates are used to build the roads, big box stores, houses and factories we as a society demand. In order to protect land for food production we need to change how we move from place to place and where and how we live and shop.
For the most part, in Ontario, the land our food is grown on is owned and controlled by the local farm families that work the land. However, across the world, there is a growing trend of farmland passing out of the hands of local farmers and into the hands of foreign governments, investment companies and corporations. Like investors hoping to gain control of farmland in other parts of the world, The Highlands Companies, backed by the Boston-based Baupost Group Hedge Fund, came to Melancthon Township in 2006 with deep pockets. Faced with a farm income crisis, high input costs and heavy debt loads, it is easy to understand why some farmers made the decision to sell. When wealthy investors push land prices up, local farmers wanting to purchase a new farm or expand their operation end up shut out of the market and land continues to flow into the hands of profit-motivated investors from outside the community.
In 2010 the National Farmers Union released, ‘Losing our Grip: How a Corporate Farmland Buy-up, Rising Farm Debt and Agribusiness Financing of Inputs Threaten Family Farms and Food Sovereignty”. One of the recommendations in this report is for provincial governments to enact land ownership restrictions wherein farmland can only be owned by individuals who reside in the province in which the land is located, or by incorporated farming operations owned by individuals who reside in the province. This change could help keep land in the hands of local communities, thereby helping to protect our food sovereignty.
Let’s use the Ontario election as an opportunity to discuss how we protect and keep farmland under our control so that we can protect our food supply for generations to come.