Ontario loses 319 acres of farmland every day. That is roughly 246 football fields or 9 family farms! Losing this agricultural land means London is reliant on importing food, making our food supply more vulnerable to disruptions in supply and price increases.
While this is a scary statistic that can impact Londoners directly, we also have the power to protect our farmland. In the second instalment of our Vote for London’s Food System series, let’s look at London’s current relationship with urban development and how your vote can protect our farmland.
Understanding London’s Urban Development
Municipalities are essential actors in the fight against farmland loss. While the provincial government sets the precedent for land development and preservation, it is up to cities like London to interpret and implement provincial policy.
Compared to other cities, London has had some success tackling the issue of farmland loss. In 1996, the city created an “urban growth boundary” – a dividing line between land that can be used for housing or industry and land that must be kept for agriculture or conservation. While farmland in Ontario is decreasing every year, London has seen its agricultural land increase by more than 23% in the last decade. Currently, “[a]lmost 80% of the land outside of our Urban Growth Boundary is rated as prime agricultural land.”
However, the city is under pressure to relax its preservation policies and the urban growth boundary to allow for further residential and commercial development. As the fastest growing city in Ontario and fourth in Canada, London is faced with a dilemma that pits the future of housing for the city’s growing population, against the continued viability of the local food system to feed that population. As we head into municipal elections, it is important that both candidates and voters understand the pressures currently placed on local farmland.
Why Is Losing Farmland A Problem?
London’s agricultural land may have increased in recent years, but that doesn’t tell the whole story of transformation in our countryside. Overall, the trend in Ontario is that farms increase in size, while the number of farms and farmers shrink. Investors, both Canadian and foreign, are purchasing Ontario land for future development, pushing the price of farmland so high that small-scale farmers see no choice but to sell, and first-time farmers cannot afford to buy. Between 2020 and 2021 alone, the price for farmland in southern Ontario increased over 22%. Many farmers now rent land instead of purchasing it, and 20% of the land rented in Ontario is owned by corporations, pension funds, and other non-farm investors.
It is true that farmland may be preserved as smaller farms are sold and concentrated into large operations, but the potential environmental and economic consequences remain. With large-scale, sometimes foreign-owned operations, it is less likely that profits are reinvested in the local community. And, there may be less incentive for farmers on rented land to diversify food crops to promote variety in the local diet or make operational changes to promote sustainability of the local ecosystem. The issue of farmland loss does not only concern the land itself, but who has access to that land and in what manner they use it.
The Covid-19 pandemic has shed an even brighter light on this issue, highlighting both the significance and limitations of our local food systems. Going forward, the more resilient our local food system, the less likely we are to experience disruptions to our food supply during a crisis. If part of the city’s strategic plan is to “[i]mprove London’s resiliency to respond to potential future challenges,” farmland preservation must be on the agenda.
How Can Our Next City Council Protect Farmland?
Besides continually discussing farmland preservation during meetings about development, our city council needs to engage with other levels of government. In fact, cities have a responsibility to advocate on behalf of residents anytime there is the opportunity to bring forward the concerns of the municipalities to provincial and federal governments. To do this, our city council needs to build relationships with our provincial and federal representatives. They can also work through formal advocacy channels, such as the Association of Municipalities Ontario and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
How Do You Know Which Candidates Prioritise Protecting Farmland?
As voters, what can we do to help protect farmland this election season? First and foremost, we need to understand how we can hold the next municipal government accountable. Take a look at candidate’s responses to the Thriving London survey. Then, use our question list below to gauge your candidate’s familiarity with and commitment to farmland preservation. After that, review our list of other actions you can take to support farmers.
Engaging with Your Candidates
- How can you ensure that issues related to agriculture and farmland conservation are routinely on the agenda when discussing land development?
- How will you respond to pressures to change the urban growth boundary to allow for more development on currently protected land?
- How do you plan to work with other municipalities to promote the protection of agricultural land?
- How do you plan to engage with farmers about issues related to land access?
- How will you balance the needs of urban and rural residents and make policy decisions that are mutually beneficial to these groups?
- How do we overcome the seeming ‘divide’ between rural and urban spaces, and see agriculture as part of a system that includes both?
- How will you balance creating affordable housing with protecting agricultural land?
What if your candidate asks you for your resources? You can always direct them to us at email@example.com. We’ve also curated a list of resources for policy makers that you can email to your leaders:
- Agriculture Matters: A Guide for Municipal Councillors and Staff RESOURCE
- Guide to Support Agricultural Growth in Your Municipality RESOURCE
- Checklist to Support Agricultural Growth in Your Municipality RESOURCE
- OFA Consolidated Agricultural Land Use Policy
- Guidelines on Permitted Uses in Ontario’s Prime Agricultural Areas
Other Ways to Support Farmers and Farmland
- Sign the Homegrown petition to save farmland here: https://homegrown.ofa.on.ca/take-action/
- Support the farmers in your area by purchasing their products! Here’s way to find local sourced products:
- Visit farmers’ markets. Some London examples include:
- Sign up for Community Supported Agriculture – (click on the text to learn more).
- Look for the Foodland Ontario logo on products to buy locally sourced products in your grocery stores.
- This lets retailers know that local products are in demand, causing stores to stock more local food.
- Support farmers by learning about their industry and why they do things a certain way. Here are some resources to do that:
London has more farmland than other municipalities, but there is pressure to turn that land into housing or commercial properties. Our next city council needs to balance development with preserving our agricultural land so we can house and feed our community. Voting for councillors who prioritise this balance is vital for protecting the future of London’s food system. To learn where your candidates stand on preserving farmland, review responses to the Thriving London survey and use our question list to talk with your candidates directly.
Finally, check out our list for ways to support farmers and local food.
Written by Siobhan Watters
Edited by Julissa Litterick