By Drew Spoelstra, Vice President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Ontario needs more homes, built faster – that much is true. The Golden Horseshoe area is poised to see unprecedented growth over the next few decades and it’s important that we work towards a better plan to accommodate folks that want to call this province home in the future.
Ontario also needs a strong, stable, sustainable supply of farm and food products grown, harvested and processed right here in one of the best food producing regions in Canada. These two complex issues deserve to carry equal weight in the planning processes and decision making for our growth areas, cities, towns, rural hubs and communities.
Earlier this month, the Ontario government announced it is proposing to rezone thousands of acres of prime farmland in the Greenbelt and other regions to build up to 50,000 new homes as part of its Bill 23 – More Homes Built Faster Act.
That’s a change that’s of serious concern to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA).
Our members from Windsor to Winchester have told us over and over again that prime agriculture land is irreplaceable and worth fighting for. Farmland losses are already at an incredible 319 acres per day in our province, according to the 2021 Census of Agriculture.
Those 319 acres of farmland represent the yearly production of 75 million carrots, 25 million apples, 510,000 chicken wings, beef for 2.2 million quarter pounders, eggs for 5.4 million omelettes or enough feed for 25,000 Clydesdale horses for a day, to name just a few.
Farmland is farmland no matter what colour its belt is or what designation it receives. Once it’s lost to development, it is gone forever, and that’s why preserving it is one of the OFA’s top priorities.
Ontario has a limited supply of what we call arable land – land that is suitable for growing crops for human consumption. In fact, it accounts for only about five percent of all the land in Ontario.
For me, this issue hits very close to home. I’m raising my children on our family farm just outside the urban boundary of the City of Hamilton, which happens to be in the Greenbelt. These new proposals raise serious concerns for me as a farmer, father, and businessperson on what the future of the protected countryside actually looks like.
How should I plan for our future? How will our business grow? How much certainty does the Greenbelt designation really give us? And where does the local, on-the-ground, real life community input come into play? These proposed changes represent a real and permanent loss of food production that in the long term won’t impact just me and my family’s farm, but every single person in our province.
However, as someone who farms in an urban municipality, I also recognize that our province is in the midst of a housing crisis. OFA understands that rapidly rising costs and a shortage of available housing have created a serious affordability problem for many Ontarians, and that the government needs to find solutions to this issue.
Some of the proposed changes in Bill 23, like cutting bureaucratic red tape and increasing consumer protection are long overdue policy changes. OFA knows that the balancing act between farmland protection and further urbanization doesn’t come with an easy answer and that the issues facing us today are complex.
That’s why we are proposing the following solutions to meet the needs of the growing urban areas and ensure that we can continue to produce an abundance of farm and food products now and for future generations:
- Focus provincial housing policy first and foremost on opportunities inside existing urban boundaries, like developing brownfield sites and underutilized land, and looking to mixed-use approaches that maximize available land.
- Return to minimum density targets of 80 people and jobs per hectare and enforce them throughout the growth plan area.
- Make targeted infrastructure investments in rural hubs, small towns and communities that are primed for responsible growth to support farms, agri-businesses and employers across rural Ontario.
- Enact a ‘use it or lose it’ clause on development approvals to get housing built faster.
- Address exclusionary zoning policies within municipalities to allow more density and missing middle housing to be built in residential neighbourhoods. Roughly 70% of Toronto and other surrounding cities are zoned for detached houses only, which restricts even modest forms of density such as triplexes or small apartment buildings.
With a responsible land use planning approach, it is possible to build complete communities that can provide for the needs of residents while minimizing sprawl, preventing the loss of farmland, and avoiding additional pressures on urban-rural boundaries.
The OFA understands and supports the government’s stated goal of building more houses for Ontarians, but the proposed changes to the Greenbelt and paving over prime farmland, represent a step in the wrong direction.
The best use of our arable land is agriculture and by working together, we can come up with solutions that will protect farmland loss and address our province’s housing crisis. The key is a collaborative approach to responsible long-term land use planning that balances meeting housing needs and supporting economic growth with protecting agricultural land.
For more information, contact:
Director of Communications and Stakeholder Relations
Ontario Federation of Agriculture
519-821-8883 ext. 218