2016 Farmland Forum – Protecting Farmland Forever!
The 12th annual Ontario Farmland Forum was held April 8th, 2016 at Bingemans Conference Centre in Kitchener. Over 140 planners, Councillors, conservationists, farmers and students attended this year’s forum, which focused on how we can work together to strengthen farmland and agricultural planning, policy development, and grassroots, permanent land protection initiatives in Ontario.
This year’s theme Farmland Forever resonated with forum participants. The take-aways for the day included emerging models for farmland protection, the potential of edge planning, managing farmlands for conservation, and the need for progressive leadership by Municipal Councils.
The day kicked off with an informative panel discussion with Keith Currie, Vice President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), Susan Swail, Smart Growth Program Manager at Environmental Defence, and Bill French, Mayor of the Township of Springwater. The session was facilitated by Former Director of Community Planning at the Region of Waterloo, Kevin Eby. Three questions were posed to the panel, as they discussed what was needed to improve farmland protection in Ontario.
Many feel the Greenbelt plan is not doing enough to protect farmland, and that leap frog developments have happened outside the Greenbelt. The idea of “greenbelting” the province was met with some applause! But the reality is that development needs to happen. There are competing land uses, but there is only one landscape, as Currie reminded us, to fit everything into. How do we protect the land needed to grow food, while meeting the demands for housing, jobs and infrastructure? There was resounding agreement that it takes political will at the Municipal level to bring about real change. Waterloo Region is at 54% intensification, much higher than the recommended 40% set out by the Greenbelt Plan. This took education, political will to support new ideas like the Brownfield incentive program, and collectively moving away from the “stick” to the “carrot”.
Presentations throughout the day supported these opening sentiments, as Edge Planning was explored with planners from the Region of Peel and MHBC Planning; new models for farmland conservation was presented by York Region; and farmland restoration and mitigation of aggregate impacts was debated with representatives from the Ontario Aggregate Resources Corporation, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and the Cornerstone Standards Council.
To round out the day, participants also heard presentations on managing farmland for conservation by the Couchiching Conservancy; collaborating to support farming on public and conservation lands by Farms at Work; and improving stewardship of rented farmland by Food & Farm Care Ontario. rare Charitable Research Reserve presented their case toward a regional land trust in Waterloo. And, an update was provided on leading farmland protection initiatives by the Ontario Farmland Trust.
Reggie Hall, Director of Land Conservation Loans with the Conservation Fund in the U.S. closed out the day by sharing inspiring models with the crowd of how the Fund is supporting farmland conservation along with economic development and job creation. In Baltimore County they are working on a goal of 80,000 acres of protected farmland. In Michigan, the Fund is working closely with the state to use conservation easements and taxation to preserve a greenbelt of farmland, as well as work within the urban edge to create opportunities for new farmers to get started.
Thank you to all the participants and presenters for helping to make the 12th annual forum a success!
Click here to see the full program and to access presentations from the day.