Environmental Rationale and Best Practices

Our food and farming system is reliant on a healthy natural environment where prime agricultural land is protected and the viability of farming is supported through strong public policy.  Many studies show that the environmental impacts of food production are greatest on-farm (e.g. nutrients, greenhouse gas emissions from livestock, pesticides) and at the consumer level (e.g. storage and food waste).[26].   For example, research by the George Morris Centres’ Value Chain Management Centre estimated that consumers were responsible for over 50% of Canada’s $27 billion in food waste each year. As a result, it is essential that we take a holistic view of the food system to ensure that environmental impacts are reduced from farm to fork (and beyond). This can be done using a variety of public policy levers to encourage sound land stewardship, smarter land-use planning and enhanced waste reduction and diversion.

Ecological Land Stewardship Practices on Farms

Rewarding farmers and landowners for ecological land stewardship practices can meet twin objectives of reducing environmental impact and increasing farmer income. Agricultural lands and grassland pasture are estimated to contribute $291 and $353 per-hectare respectively in terms of ecosystem services including atmospheric regulation and pollination. The estimated total value of the ecological services provided by forests, open water, wetlands, beaches and agricultural lands in southern Ontario is equivalent to $84,408,863,080 annually.[27]

  • Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS):  ALUS began as a pilot project to encourage farmers to undertake conservation activities in Blanchard Manitoba in 2006, and has since expanded into Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island. It is a community-developed, farmer-delivered program that pays farmers to retain and reconstruct natural areas such as wetlands, grasslands, riparian areas and trees. In Ontario, ALUS is active in Norfolk, Grey-Bruce, the united counties of Storemont, Dundas and Glengarry, and the municipality of Bayham, with the support of organizations such as the W. Garfield Weston Foundation, Ontario Nature and the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Environmental Stewardship of Public Lands

Publicly-owned lands can be productive resources in healthy integrated food systems if they are maintained with ecologically-friendly growing practices. Roughly 90% of Ontarians live within watersheds managed by the province’s 36 Conservation Authorities (CAs).[28] CAs are mandated to ensure the conservation, restoration and responsible management of Ontario’s water, land and natural habitats through programs that balance human, environmental and economic needs.

  • Raisin Region Conservation Authority (RRCA): Water quality and fish habitat have been seriously degraded in the tributaries which flow into Lake St. Francis. Historical and ongoing land use practices have contributed to high sedimentation, habitat loss due to channelization and excessive nutrient and bacteria levels. To address this, the RRCA established an Agricultural Stewardship program to provide financial assistance to farmers interested in adopting Beneficial Management Practices to improve surface water quality and natural habitat. Achievements to date include fencing approximately 10,000 livestock out of various watercourses, providing alternate water sources to the waterway on 60 farms, upgrading 65 manure storage facilities, upgrading 32 milkhouse/washwater facilities, the implementation of conservation tillage on over 12,000 acres and planting approximately 350,000 native species of trees and shrubs to provide windbreaks, wildlife habitat and buffer areas adjacent to waterways.

Land-use Planning and Smart Growth

Farmland in Ontario is decreasing as the population and urban sprawl are growing. In the 2011 Census of Agriculture, it states there was a decrease in farmed land by 4.8% from 2006-2011. Smart Growth planning allows for more sustainable development and healthier environments by creating vibrant urban centres, while simultaneously restricting urban sprawl and protecting farmland. Not only is protection of agricultural land good for the environment, Ontario residents would prefer to live in more concentrated city cores than sprawl. A recent RBC-Pembina study found that over 80% on Ontario homebuyers prefer to live in an attached dwelling where amenities are within walking distance, they could take rapid transit to work and have a commute of less than 30 minutes.>

  • Sustainable Waterloo Region: Sustainable Waterloo Region is a not-for-profit formed in 2008 towards a vision of an environmentally and economically resilient community that prioritizes the well-being of current and future generations.  Sustainable Waterloo Region supports the principles of Smart Growth and a shift towards further intensification of development to reduce urban sprawl, lower infrastructure costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect agricultural land for future generations.

Farmland Preservation

Prime agricultural land is a non-renewable resource that is under pressure in many part of the province due to the rapid growth and development of our urban areas.  Southern Ontario has over half (52%) of the country’s Class 1 soils (soils with no limitations for long term agricultural production); however over the past 50 years, we have lost nearly 40% of the farmland in the province, 18% of which was Class 1.

  • Ontario Farmland Trust: Founded in 2004, Ontario Farmland Trust’s mission is to protect Ontario farmland through direct land securement using conservation easements and land donations, policy research to improve farmland protection and education on the impacts of farmland loss and the need for greater farmland preservation. Using conservation easements, a relatively new tool in Ontario, Ontario Farmland Trust has helped to permanently protect roughly 750 acres of farmland for agricultural uses.

Urban Agriculture

Urban agriculture refers to food production in urban areas, and can include traditional backyard gardens, container gardens on balconies and rooftops, community and allotment gardens and raising small livestock such as chickens, rabbits and honey bees. The United States Department of Agriculture has estimated that about 15% of the world’s food is grown in urban areas. Not only can urban agriculture enhance food access and security, but it also has environmental benefits by helping to reduce water run-off and emissions related to transporting food. Urban agriculture is happening at many scales from food for personal consumption through to commercial scale operations.

  • Lufa Farms:Lufa Farms built the world’s first commercial rooftop greenhouse in Montreal in 2011. Its vision is to change the way the world eats by growing food where people live and growing it more sustainably. Lufa Farms also partners with local artisans and farmers to deliver baskets of food to Montrealers every week of the year at convenient pick-up points across the city.  They currently have two greenhouses, totaling 31,000 square feet, that feed approximately 2,000 people.
  • The Stop Community Food Centre, Toronto: The Stop runs an urban agriculture program to help connect urban residents to agriculture and increase access to fresh, healthy food.  Their program includes am 8,000 square foot garden at Earlscourt Park, a 3,000 square foot greenhouse, a compost demonstration centre that provides compost to the greenhouse and educates people on composting methods, a global roots garden that includes eight plots dedicated to the food needs of specific ethnic communities in Toronto and a community garden at Hillside Park.  These sites provide over 4,000 lbs of fresh, organic produce per year. The Stop also coordinates a garden-sharing program, called Yes in My Backyard, that helps connect those who want to garden but don’t have the space with those who have space in their garden and are willing to share it.
  • Urban Poultry By-law, Guelph: The City of Guelph is one of the few municipalities in southern Ontario that explicitly allows chickens, ducks, geese and pigeons within city limits, as long as they are kept in pens that are regularly cleaned and disinfected and are free from standing water.  Pens must be at least 50 feet away from other dwellings, schools or churches.

Edible Landscaping

Edible landscapes provide numerous environmental benefits to a city. In addition to increasing aesthetic value to a landscape, edible landscapes also enhance local biodiversity and green space. They also greatly reduce the ecological footprint of a food system through providing locally-grown produce, reducing waste and emissions from food processing and transportation. Municipalities can help by shifting existing landscape budgets towards edible landscapes for municipal public lands. Edible landscapes can be integrated into public lands by either gradually increasing food-producing plants, replacing dead, dying or diseased trees with food-producing trees, and selecting native species over foreign species that may require more maintenance.

  • Urban Food Production,Victoria, B.C: As components of its multi-faceted Urban Food Production programming, the City of Victoria supports edible landscaping at two community commons – the Haultain commons and the Springridge commons – as well as a demonstration vegetable garden at City Hall, maintained and harvested by the community group LifeCycles Project Society. The City also recently released Interim Boulevard Gardening Guidelines to encourage private property owners to plant gardens (including edible species) in the city-owned boulevards immediately adjacent to their property.  The boulevards do not require a permit, and property owners may give tenants or other groups permission to garden in these spaces.

Food Waste Diversion

In Canada, it is estimated that roughly $27 billion dollars worth of food is wasted every year.  While half of this is estimated to occur in the home, there is significant wastage across the food system from farm through to retail.[29] Not only is there the environmental cost associated with managing this waste, but it raises significant social policy issues when about four million Canadian experience some degree of food insecurity.[30]

  • Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital Food Waste Diversion Project, Windsor: Windsor’s Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital began a food waste diversion project in spring 2013 as part of a $300,000 recycling grant from the Ontario Hospital Association’s (OHA) Green Hospital Fund. Each day, 500 pounds of food waste is turned into fertilizer using two composting machines, diverting 83 tons of landfill-bound food waste annually. The fertilizer is donated to 13 community gardens managed by Food Matters Windsor Essex County, a local non-profit that does not have the capacity to purchase fertilizer otherwise. In turn, the gardens provide fresh produce to shelters and food banks in Windsor and Essex County as part of their healthy food access mandate. The OHA’s Green Hospital Champion Fund is funded by the OntarioBuys program, an initiative of the Ministry of Finance to save money and administrative overhead in Broader Public Sector (BPS) supply management.
  • Peel Region Composting Program: Peel Region launched its kitchen waste composting program in the 1990s to “close the loop” in the local food system and marketing the compost generated from municipal kitchen waste through a bulk delivery service. The region produces over 15,000 tonnes of compost per year, and the demand has been expanding beyond the residential sector to agricultural and commercial sectors by developing knowledge and understanding of the use of compost. The regional staff have actively spread awareness about the benefits of compost as a soil amendment and educated communities to further increase the demand of compost, as well as buy-in and participation of the organic waste collection program from community members.

Footnotes

  1. Conference Board of Canada Centre for Food in Canada, Addressing the Environmental Impacts of the Food System, 2013; and Food Magazine, Kraft Releases Sustainability Report, December 2011.
  2. Gooch M, Felfel A, Marenick N, Food Waste in Canada: Opportunities to Increase the Competitiveness of Canada’s Agri-food Sector while Simultaneously Improving the Environment, 2010.
  3. Spatial Informatics Group, Austin Troy & Ken Bagstad, (2009). Estimating Ecosystem Services in Southern Ontario, commissioned by the Southern Region Planning Unit of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.
  4. Conservation Ontario, accessed on October 14, 2014.
  5. Gooch M, Felfel A, Marenick N, Food Waste in Canada: Opportunities to Increase the Competitiveness of Canada’s Agri-food Sector while Simultaneously Improving the Environment, 2010.
  6. Tarasuk, V., Mitchell, A., Dachner, N. Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF). (2013). Household food insecurity in Canada 2011.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *