The Future of Ontario Farmland

The 2024 Farmland Forum on Thursday, March 21st was held both in person as well as online for our second hybrid forum. This was Ontario Farmland Trust’s 19th annual forum, and we were beyond excited to welcome over 135 people in person to The GrandWay in Elora, as well as 120 registrants online from across the province and country.

The 2024 Farmland Forum, The Future of Ontario Farmland, celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Ontario Farmland Trust with a return to the foundational dialogues and round-table discussions that sparked the creation of OFT. The forum was a pivotal gathering for exploring innovative solutions to the pressing challenges of farmland preservation in Ontario. As we confront the realities of farmland loss, the forum delved into necessary policy reforms and strategic approaches to protect our agricultural lands. Martin Straathof, Executive Director of the Ontario Farmland Trust, acted as MC for the day.

Steve Watters, Mayor of the Township of Centre Wellington, opened the forum with passionate remarks about the importance of agriculture for his township and community.

Our first keynote speaker was Becky Big Canoe, Chair and Co-Founder of Mno Aki Land Trust, who joined us virtually.

We were excited to welcome the first panel to the table in a discussion on Farmland Protection & Environmental Policy: Planning for the Future. We welcomed Phil Pothen, Program Manager, Land Use and Ontario Environment & Counsel for Environmental Defence, Deborah Martin-Downs, past CAO of Credit Valley Conservation, Drew Spoelstra, President, of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, and moderator Dr. Bronwynne Wilton, Principal of Wilton Consulting and Councillor for the Township of Centre Wellington. The panel focused on the implications recent provincial policies will have for the future of food systems and conservation in Ontario, and how we can encourage policies that center farmland and environmental protection. 

Melana Roberts, food sovereignty advocate and food systems strategist, wrapped up the morning session with three key ideas in integrate food and land planning policies for the future of food.

After lunch, we welcomed students from the University of Guelph’s Rural Planning and Development (RPD) master’s program who took part in a joint course with OFT. They shared their final project on farmland preserves and municipality capacity toolkits.

Our second panel was a discussion on Who Will Farm it? Supporting Farm & Foodland Access in Ontario. This panel specifically looked at opportunities for municipalities, conservation authorities, land trusts and other non-profits to support land access through policy & programming. Panelists Rav Singh, Farmer at Shade of Miti, Don Hargrave, Chairman of the Grey Dufferin Community Pasture, Scott Taylor, Director of Planning, for the County of Grey, and Ayla Fenton, Agriculture Systems Manager for the Loving Spoonful were moderated by Briana Vanular, Land Access Access & Young Farmer Support Coordinator for the National Farmers Union – Ontario.

Our closing keynote speaker, Richard Bloomfield, PhD Candidate in the Geography and Environment department at Western University wrapped up the day with a summary of the challenges facing farmland and farmers today, along with potential solutions.

OFT is appreciative of the amazing presenters, as well as our volunteers. Additionally, the event couldn’t have been possible without our generous supporters, so a big thank you to:

  • Grand River Agricultural Society
  • School of Environmental Design and Rural Development
  • Beef Farmers of Ontario
  • Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario
  • Kathy White & Dr. Barry White Orthodontics
  • Canadians for a Sustainable Society
  • Ontario Professional Planners Institute
  • Jackie Ramler – Raymond James Executive Wealth Advisors
  • Ontario Federation of Agriculture
  • Better Farming magazine
  • Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario
  • National Farmers Union – Ontario

Lastly, thank you to everyone who attended for bringing your presence and engagement! We hope to see you next year.

Looking to learn more? You can read about our past Farmland Forum events.