LETTER FROM ONTARIO
Who is Protecting Our Best Farmland?
Fingers are easily pointed but if the land is to be saved someone is going to have to step forward and accept responsibility.

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

This column was adapted from one of Elbert van Donkersgoed's weekly radio chats, called Corner Post, which are aired weekly on CFCO Radio in Chatham and CKNX Radio in Wingham, Ontario. Elbert is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, which is working hard to create a more satisfying and sustainable model for farming in the province. If you'd like to receive a transcript of Elbert's Corner Post address each week, send an email to evd@christianfarmers.org with SUBSCRIBE as the message.

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August 8, 2003: The best farmland in the province firmly protected for family farm agriculture for generations has long been part of the Christian Farmers Federation's vision for farming. There are pockets of success in Ontario, but it is increasingly difficult to shield farmland from urban encroachment.

Last winter's CFFO workshop series, "Planning for Action to Save the Family Farm," explored barriers to protecting our best farmland. About 225 members and friends of CFFO participated in 19 sessions across the province.

Participants criticized all the players in land use changes for failing to protect our best farmland. Ten percent of participants blamed the province. Fourteen percent named municipalities. Fifteen percent fingered developers. Twenty-three percent held scattered non-farm developments responsible. Twenty-nine percent identified farmers themselves as part of the problem, while thirty-five percent criticized the whole land use planning system.

The province was blamed for not containing urban development, for failing to direct it to poor quality farmland and for approving one last crop of houses on the best land as long as there is some proof that people want to move there. One participant noted: "If the province is not willing to protect farmland, should farmers be expected to?"

Developers were fingered for their close ties with politicians, for their lobbying to eliminate restrictions, for their studies based on short-term economics and their lack of understanding of the long-term value of good farmland.

Scattered non-farm uses were held responsible for driving up the value of farmland beyond the reach of family farmers, for creating restrictions on livestock farms and pressuring for all kinds of new uses, in addition to farming, on our best land.

Farmers identified themselves as part of the problem, for thinking like landowners and emphasizing the development value of farmland rather than the productive value important to their farm businesses. They noted that farmer independence, commitment to free enterprise, and land as retirement savings get in the road of protecting farmland.

The planning system was criticized for failing to understand agriculture's needs, for trying to make one set of rules fit the whole province, for supporting short-term interests at the expense of farming's long-term aspirations, and for failing to create policy alternatives that allow farmers to retire and build retirement homes.

The Niagara Escarpment has a Commission that defends the escarpment's importance in Ontario. The Oak Ridges Moraine has recently been given legislation enshrining its value and creating a taxpayer-funded voice to defend it. Government agencies, like conservation authorities, will go to the wall for valleys, areas of natural and scientific significance, forests and floodplains.

It is time that prime farmland had its own publicly funded voice and defender.

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Corner Post can be heard weekly on CFCO Radio, Chatham and CKNX Radio, Wingham, Ontario. Corner Post is archived on the website of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario: www.christianfarmers.org. To be added to the electronic distribution list of Corner Post, send email to evd@christianfarmers.org with SUBSCRIBE as the message. To remove your name, send email with UNSUBSCRIBE as the message.