Let’s Talk About Supporting Urban Agriculture

So far in our Vote for London’s Food System series, we’ve explored what community food security is and why protecting farmland is important. For our last installment, we are going to talk about how you can support urban agriculture this election.

What is urban agriculture?

Generally, agriculture is the act of using land to produce (grow) and distribute food. You may be more familiar with rural agriculture – think of large farm fields in the countryside. Urban agriculture is much the same, but it happens on a smaller scale within city limits.

Why is urban agriculture important? 

Primarily, urban agriculture is important because growing food within a community means food is readily available to that community. Urban agriculture removes barriers to accessing food, such as financial strain and/or a lack of transportation. Since food is immediately available and the price does not include shipping costs, food is cheaper and fresher for community members.

Additionally, urban agriculture has longer-term benefits for you and your community. Since urban agriculture projects happen right in your neighbourhood, you can easily find fresh options that can improve your physical and mental health. Urban agriculture also provides opportunities near your home to learn about food production and food issues. Close contact with how food is grown gives communities the chance to learn about food security and why rising food costs impact both consumers (you) and food producers (growers, farmers, etc.).

Another amazing benefit of urban agriculture is its positive impact on our environment. Planting gardens, cultivating fruit trees, or starting small farms creates healthy habitats for wildlife. For example, planting flowers and growing vegetables provides homes and food for bees. This leads to increased bee populations and more pollination, creating a lush ecosystem (which also benefits your garden and food production). Urban agriculture also helps the environment by cutting down on driving and food waste. When food can be sourced locally, people drive leading to lower carbon emissions. Access to a regular supply of local food means you can buy less at one time which helps prevent food spoilage and in turn, decreases food waste.

Since urban agriculture impacts communities in so many positive ways, our next city council needs to support its growth in London.

What is London’s urban agriculture like right now?

London made some positive changes to our urban agriculture by-laws in 2021. For example, if you have a large plot of land in your backyard, you may be able to build a greenhouse up to 200m2. You can also grow food in shipping containers if you get a permit! 

Despite the changes, by-laws still limit what can be grown within city limits,  London has a small, but passionate, urban agriculture scene. There are currently over 450 gardeners working within London’s 17 community gardens to provide communities access to low-cost and healthy food. Organisations like Urban Roots London have pushed through the existing red tape to make the most of London’s unused land by growing organic food and distributing it locally, proving urban agriculture can be a successful operation in London. Others see this too which is why The Grove exists; an agribusiness hub in London’s Western Fair District that provides people with the space and resources to make connections and make their ideas for bettering local agriculture a reality. As previously mentioned, London’s urban ag scene is small but passionate, and more forward, pro-urban ag city government will only see the scene grow.

However, there is still room to grow.

What can the London city council do to support urban agriculture?

While London city council is not directly responsible for the implementation of urban agriculture projects, they are in charge of advocating for bylaw changes to the provincial government. This means they can push our provincial government to give more city space to urban agriculture. If by-law changes pass, neighbourhoods could build more community gardens or start other initiatives. The city can also refine land use applications and reduce fees to ease the burden of accessing land approved for urban agricultural activities. (See our citations for specific actions municipalities should take.)

How can I vote for candidates that will support urban agriculture?

How can you ensure the candidate you vote for supports growing food in the city? Use our questions below to gauge your candidate’s interest and knowledge of urban agriculture.

  • Would you consider urban agriculture a solution to some food security issues?
  • How do you plan to grow urban agriculture within our municipality?
  • What urban agriculture initiative are you most excited about and why?
  • What changes do you think you can make to existing by-laws and programs to expand urban agriculture in London?

Other Actions You Can Take To Support Urban Agriculture

Besides voting on October 24th, here’s a list of actions you can take to support our urban agriculture community and get involved yourself:

  • Join a community garden and grow your own food. Take things a step further by saving a row and growing some food for the London Food Bank.
  • Visit the Victory Garden at the Western Fair
  • Connect with Pollinator Pathways and learn how to plant a pollinator garden
  • Buy food from urban growers 
  • Join Facebook groups to connect with urban gardeners (FUAL, etc.)

Citations

Written by Evelyna-Sophia Press
Edited by Julissa Litterick

Let’s Talk About Protecting Farmland

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

Sample questions:

  • 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 info@mlfpc.ca. We’ve also curated a list of resources for policy makers that you can email to your leaders:

Other Ways to Support Farmers and Farmland

TLDR?

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

Celebrate Canada’s Agriculture Day

A letter from Agriculture More Than Ever:

Canada’s Agriculture Day is back!

Last year, the entire ag industry celebrated across the country, shared our pride, opened doors to new food conversations, and trended nationally on Twitter. And we can’t wait to do it again in 2022.
Join us on Tuesday, February 22 as we raise a fork to the food we love.

Connecting with consumers

Canada’s Agriculture Day is a time to showcase all the amazing things happening in the industry and help consumers see the connection to where their food comes from and the people who produce it. Consumers want to learn more, and this day is a great way to start the conversation.

Here are just a few ways you can get involved:

  • Post a photo, make a video, or write a blog. Share what you’re doing on social media using the hashtag #CdnAgDay.
  • Encourage your friends to show-off their culinary talents using all-Canadian ingredients.
  • Teach someone something new about agriculture. Share your knowledge and story with others.

These ideas are only suggestions – come up with your own ways to share your passion for ag and inspire others to join the conversation. It’s all about celebrating Canadian agriculture and food in engaging, fun and respectful ways.

For more inspiration, visit AgDay.ca

We can’t wait to celebrate with you on February 22!

AgDay.ca | #CdnAgDay

 

 

Download letter as PDF

 

Interview with Nadine Castonguay, EnviroWestern Garden Executive and Food System Champion 2021

Nadine Castonguay, EnviroWestern Garden Executive at Western University, was selected as a Food System Champion in 2021.

Recently, Nadine led the development of the community garden located at Western University. She worked with various stakeholders across campus to organize a new and more visible location for the EnviroWestern Garden and took care of the land from watering and weeding to managing student volunteers throughout the summer. You can learn more about her positive impact on the local food system at mlfpc.ca/foodchampions.

Q: What drew you into doing work in the food system?

A: My passions for food and the environment collide. I wanted to create a system on campus to facilitate knowledge generation and dissemination where the community could come to understand the complex dynamics of our food including the links between the economic, social, and environmental elements of how food is sourced.

Q: What do you like most about your food system work?  

A: My favourite part about food system work is the actual production of something that provides us with what we need to sustain human life. It’s crazy that we can produce outputs that contain nutrients that allow us to thrive. I appreciate that without the food system, we would not survive.

Q: What works well in Middlesex London to support your work?

A: I appreciate that there is a growing community of individuals who want to see more organic and locally sourced food available. There is a market of opportunity for new businesses to venture into sustainable agriculture.

Q: Are there local challenges that make your job more difficult?

A: There are significant barriers for new farmers such as increased land prices, the lack of knowledge around the definition of sustainable food production, and what it looks like to have a sustainable food production operation.

Q: What would you like to see in our local community to strengthen our food system?

A: I would like to see a greater emphasis on allowing individuals to grow and produce their own food in the city. For example, having more rooftop gardens, increasing the number of community gardens, and developing agricultural opportunities in neighbourhoods within London.

Community Gardens: Food, not Recreation

When the Government of Ontario closed parks, playing fields, and other “recreational amenities,” community gardens were included in the list.  On behalf of the thousands of Ontarians who rely on these gardens for food, we urgently call on the government to classify community gardens as essential food services, allowing the gardens to open in time for spring preparations and planting.

The COVID-19 pandemic is dire and forceful governmental action is certainly warranted; at the same time, the gardens, like other essential food services, could easily operate in a way that does not add to the health risks. Even though community gardens are not commercial food operations, they provide proven benefits for individuals and communities: for us, one role that stands out as crucial is the community’s food security.

Closing community gardens now effectively means that thousands of people will lose access to tonnes of fresh, local fruit and produce from their own community gardens and from the shelves of our food banks and other hunger relief organizations who benefit from those gardens. It won’t matter whether the restrictions are lifted later in the summer because without garden preparation and planting this spring, the entire growing season will be lost. We need to be in the gardens on the dry, warm days now for there to be fresh produce in August. The loss of an entire season’s worth of fresh, local fruit and produce would be a devastating blow even in a normal year, but we all know that there is nothing normal about the current situation. The loss of this season’s harvest will be much worse for our communities.

The unprecedented economic collapse we are living through is already driving up the need for emergency food services, and that need is expected to keep rising, putting additional pressure on organizations providing hunger relief. Food costs are also projected to keep rising, pushing the need for emergency food services even higher. COVID-19 is expected to result in agricultural labor shortages this summer and fall, further impacting food costs and possibly affecting production, resulting in sporadic food shortages, further destabilizing our communities’ food security. Even if there is significant funding put into emergency hunger relief later this year, without community gardens there will not be the tonnes of fresh, local fruit and produce readily available to fill that need. Food insecurity also has a curve that needs to be flattened; because community gardens are one measure for flattening it, keeping them closed steepens the curve.

Given the importance of community gardens in supporting  families, communities, and  local food banks and charitable hunger relief organizations, the closure of these gardens this spring constitutes a threat to communities’ food security at an especially vulnerable and treacherous time. They don’t have to be closed as part of the fight against COVID-19. The same physical distancing practices and protocols recommended for other essential agriculture and food services can be applied to community garden spaces (see our website for a set of recommendations). Many other locales across Canada and the US, including the province of BC, have recognized community gardens as essential food services permitted to operate under physical distancing protocols. We urge the government of Ontario to do the same, and we call on all Ontarians to support this critical action.

Benjamin Hill, chairperson
Middlesex-London Food Policy Council

Skylar Franke, executive director
London Environmental Network

Becky Ellis, chair
London Urban Beekeepers Collective
Permaculture for the People

Stephen Harrott,
Friends of Urban Agriculture London (FUAL)

Changing Faces of Agriculture

It was great to be a part of the Changing Faces of Ag Event at the Western Fair District hosted by the London Chamber of Commerce, where over 200 people gathered to show support for our local agriculture community.
Joe Dales, president of agri-food innovation at the Roundhouse Accelerator, gave the opening keynote speech highlighting the unique opportunity that Canadian Agriculture has with the vast amount of innovative farmers and technology in our area.
The 3 panelists of innovative farmers consisted of: Andrew Campbell (Fresh Air Farmer), Susan Heeman (Heeman’s) and Murray Good (Whitecrest Mushrooms), who all shared stories of innovation and disruption. Campbell emphasized the necessity for agriculture to convey to consumers that farming is not black and white. Changing the perceptions that people have of agriculture is a challenging and complicated task.
How can we help farmers tell their story? We can start by visiting local farms and sharing our experiences with others. Heeman is an advocate for living-local and agri-tourism. Local food maps are a good way to help bridge the consumer and agriculture gap. As an entrepreneur, Heeman believes people want the on-farm experience and many are willing to pay the higher price for local food.
The closing keynote speaker, Keith Merker, CEO of WeedMD described the opportunity of knowledge transfer from traditional agriculture to cannabis and vice versa. Merker said we need to concentrate on similarities and opportunities to step up into the cannabis industry with ag knowledge.
The bubble of ag is expanding and consumers are getting more curious about where their food comes from and how it is produced. But, how do we break the divide between agriculture and society? It starts by openly talking with consumers. However, influencing consumers is complicated and challenging. As our environment is changing, how do we show agriculture is valuable? Joe calls us all to support local innovative companies, farmers, and neighbours. By engaging in communication with one another, we can start to change perceptions and create new ones by learning what each other is doing.

Processing Vegetable Growers lose critical bargaining power

On December 11, 2019 Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, released a statement describing the amendments to Regulation 440. The changes will no longer allow the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers (OPVG) board the ability to negotiate on behalf of growers to ensure contracts are paid as negotiated. Growers are busy doing what they do best…producing food. Losing their collective bargaining power is removing a tool from their toolbox, leaving growers to take on more risk. This will result in growers feeling ignored and unsupported to make the best business decision.

In an ideal world, policies, subsidies and insurance programs would be made in the best interest of the growers. This contributes to a healthier, more sustainable food system as the growers are the closest to the land and have the knowledge about best practices. We all have an obligation to ensure that farm businesses are able to operate in a profitable and sustainable way.

There is tremendous value to organized, collective marketing for all Ontario growers, but only ifthe growers are supported in the process.  It takes work to come up with creative and innovative solutions and we need to have confidence and curiosity to pursue changes. Let’s get serious about our food system. Peggy is right we are dealing with real farmers, real families, real communities…without their success we have no food system.

City of London Multi-Year Budget

Your Voice Counts!

You have a chance right now to speak up for a healthy and stable local food system; one that is ecologically responsible and economically viable. Use your voice!

London has tabled its four-year budget, and City Council will be reviewing, debating, and inviting input on the budget until its final approval in March. There are opportunities for you to provide input at Ward meetings and Public Participation meetings. You can fill out the online feedback form and speak directly to your Councillor.

What does the budget have to do with food?

More than you might think!

This is the first budget London City Council will be approving since they acknowledged that we are facing a climate change emergency. It’s also a multi-year budget, setting the framework for the next four years of a decade that has authoritatively been identified as crucial in avoiding catastrophic climate changes.

The city’s proposed strategies to address the climate emergency include support for a robust local food system, including a strategy to “promote and invest in urban agriculture initiatives”. (You can find the November 2019 report here.) As a community food council, we think these kinds of strategies are crucial and we strongly support them. While they are not specifically included in the draft budget, they are expected to be part of the Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP) which the draft budget recommends be developed over the next year. That means this is a prime opportunity to strengthen the future of the local food system.

What can you do?

Show your support for a budget that prioritizes action on climate change and invests in urban agriculture, agro-forestry initiatives and a strong, healthy local food system.

Speak up

  • Provide your feedback to city council using the online feedback form
  • Sign the London Environmental Network’s petition calling on city council to prioritize climate action by funding as many climate action plans to reduce emissions as possible
  • Email, call or tweet your city Councillor with your feedback on the budget
  • Speak up at a Public Participation Meeting
  • Share this with your friends, family, and social networks

Council has already acknowledged we’re in a climate emergency. Your voice can convince them to make climate action the top budget priority, for the sake of providing a safe and sustainable local food system.

New Mandate Letter for Agriculture and Agri-Food

On December 13 Justin Trudeau released the Mandate Letter for Marie-Claude Bibeau, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. The letter underscores the aim of building a stronger, more inclusive and more resilient country. Trudeau also directs every Minister to accelerate and build on the progress previously made to support self-determination, improve service delivery, and advance reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples. And Trudeau emphasizes the need for open, effective, honest, and transparent government.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Priorities

Within Agriculture and Agri-Food, Trudeau underscores the goal that agriculture continues to be a leader in job creation and innovation as well as maximizing its export growth potential. The Letter spells out ten priorities for the Minister Bibeau:

  • Review risk management programs with a special focus on AgriStability to help manage environmental and business risks.
  • Work on tax measures to facilitate the intergenerational transfer of farms.
  • Create a new entity, Farm and Food Development Canada, that consolidates federal financial and advisory services for agriculture.
  • Protect Canada’s supply-managed agriculture sections and develop with them a vision of the future in a world of global free-trade agreements.
  • To identify additional tools that help Canada’s agriculture and agri-food businesses export and diversify into global markets.
  • Develop additional capacity to respond to trade disputes based on recent experiences.
  • Provide leadership for the implementation of the new Food Policy for Canada, which aims to:
    • Help Canadian communities access healthy food;
    • Make Canadian food the top choice at home and abroad;
    • Support food security in northern and Indigenous communities; and
    • Reduce food waste.
  • Support the Minister of Health to ensure that the Pest Management Regulatory Agency is making science-based decisions that lead to safe and suitable uses of crop protection products in Canada.
  • Create a new fund to help producers and processors close technological and infrastructure gaps inhibiting the development of domestic and international markets.
  • Create a new Canada Water Agency to work with other stakeholders to find the best ways to keep our water safe, clean, and well-managed.

Middlesex-London Food Policy Council

Many of these priorities will directly impact the communities and residents of Middlesex County and the City of London, though they do not exhaust the issues of concern to us. As a Council, we are looking forward to watching the Liberal government’s progress on these priorities and on other issues facing Canada’s food and agriculture sectors and are looking forward to being one (of many) local partners in support of a robust and resilient Canadian food system.

What do you think are the most pressing food-related concerns facing the Middlesex-London region and its residents? Please share your ideas with us in the comments.