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.)


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


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

Let’s Talk About Community Food Security

It’s no secret that food prices are increasing. Discount food stores are seeing increased sales and Canadian inflation rates are higher than they have been in nearly 40 years.1 For some Londoners, this may mean tightening budgets, and on others, more severe consequences. 

On October 24th, 2022, Londoners will head to the polls and vote for Mayor, City Council and School Board Trustees. It is very important that we elect city officials who support policies that make food accessible to all Londoners. But how do you know where candidates stand on food issues? In this post, we are going to help you prepare to vote for London’s food system by defining food insecurity and questions to ask your candidates.

What is food insecurity?

The official definition of food insecurity in Canada is, “…the inability to acquire or consume an adequate diet quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so”.2 Let’s clarify exactly what the definition of food insecurity means:

  • Inability to acquire or consume an adequate diet in quality or sufficient quantity of food”. This means folks in our community do not have enough food that is healthy and safe to eat. The biggest reason for this is inadequate income. Households do not have enough money to pay for all of their basic needs which include housing, transportation, and food. A updated report shows that 51.9% of food insecure households have paid employment, but do not make enough money to afford all of their basic needs.3 
  • …in socially acceptable ways”. This refers to the social and cultural context in which we eat our food. Food has emotional and social meaning – choosing foods we like and eating with others can help us bond with our loved ones and connect to our heritage. When a person is food insecure, they often lose autonomy and can experience social and psychological stress in addition to going without food. For example, people who rely on food banks often have fewer choices when picking out their food. This lack of freedom is frustrating, and can poorly impact mental health. In addition, food bank users may experience shame for using food banks as a result of unfair, negative attitudes society may have towards them. 
  • “…or the uncertainty that one will be able to so.” This part of the definition is very important. The stress and anxiety of not knowing if you will be able to get food can be just as difficult to cope with as the lack of food. Again, the biggest reason people lack access to food is money. Many Londoners cannot afford to buy food after paying for other basic needs. Even when people use emergency food services like the London Food Bank, they are limited to getting food once every 30 days because of the high demand in our community.4

How food secure is London?

When determining a region’s food security level, food affordability is often used to estimate how much money is needed for a household to purchase food. This measure considers how many people live in a household and if they can eat a variety of foods recommended by Canada’s Food Guide. The latest local data from 2019 shows that roughly 1 in 7 households in the Middlesex-London region were food insecure.5 This means their income was insufficient to cover all of their basic living expenses, including purchasing enough food. At a provincial level, PROOF recent 2021 report shows food insecurity in Ontario has risen to 16.1% of households.3 In the past, London’s food insecurity rates have been in-line with those of Ontario. Assuming London continues to follow provincial trends, the potential for an increasing number of food insecure households is troubling, especially in light of rapid increases in food prices and the much slower increase in income.

How can we improve food security in London?

It is important to note that food security must be addressed at different levels of government as each level has different responsibilities.Since food security is tied to income, increasing food security is often the provincial government’s responsibility as they deal with social assistance and set minimum wages. However, our local government also has a role in creating a food secure London. Our municipal government plays a crucial role in enacting by-laws, land use policies, and strategic planning. For example, London city council can support affordable housing projects and help small businesses which ensures Londoners can access stable employment and housing. This leads to more money for people’s food budgets. 

In Middlesex-London, we also have a thriving agri-food industry which is an important contributor to the local economy. The region’s large volume and variety of agricultural and farming operations make London an ideal home for these businesses. Currently, food processing and production companies in London employ more than 7000 people in addition to those employed at local farms.6 It is important that city council support and protect these sectors of the food system in our region. Londoners benefit from both the local food supply, and the positive impact on our local economy at a community and household level.

Questions to Ask Your Candidates

Ensuring everyone in our community has the ability to purchase healthy food should be a top priority this election, but it may be difficult to know if your candidate is willing to tackle food security issues. Here are some questions you can ask to gauge your candidates’ commitment to address food insecurity in London.

  • How will you follow through on supporting the affordable housing and public transportation 2019-2023 City of London strategic goals? 
  • What types of grants or initiatives do you intend to apply for to support the further development of our agri-food industry?
  • How do you plan to attract agri-food businesses and processing facilities to set-up in London which in turn will provide more local employment opportunities?
  • Will you continue to promote and invest in urban agriculture initiatives as part of the 2019-2023 City of London strategic goals?

Curious to learn more?

If you want to learn more about local food insecurity check out these great resources:


  1. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220720/dq220720a-eng.htm
  2. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/food-nutrition-surveillance/health-nutrition-surveys/canadian-community-health-survey-cchs/household-food-insecurity-canada-overview.html
  3. Tarasuk V, Li T, Fafard St-Germain AA. (2022) Household food insecurity in Canada, 2021. Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF). Retrieved from https://proof.utoronto.ca/
  4. https://www.londonfoodbank.ca/learn/faq
  5. https://www.healthunit.com/cost-of-healthy-eating
  6. https://www.ledc.com/agri-food
  7. https://mlfpc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Full-Report.pdf
  8. https://www.healthunit.com/community-food-assessment 

Written by Christine Basille
Edited by Julissa Litterick

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)

Community Gardens are Essential Food Services

The Middlesex London Food Policy Council is joining Sustain Ontario and other organizations provincewide to call on the government of Ontario to identify community gardens as essential food services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The provincial government’s statement on Monday includes community gardens in the list of outdoor recreational amenities to remain closed until at least April 13, which places the season for those gardens at risk. More importantly, identifying community gardens as recreational rather than as part of the food production and distribution system understates the important role the gardens fill.

The City of London’s urban agriculture strategy emphasizes the importance of urban agriculture to provide access to nutritious and affordable food, improve physical and mental health and quality of life, and contribute to a sustainable, resilient food system. Research additionally supports these claims about the benefits of community gardens in urban spaces. There are 17 active community gardens within the city. Across the province, tens of thousands of families rely on community gardens for food.

According to Sustain Ontario, “This model of community food production is seen as integral to the COVID-19 response in countries throughout the world, particularly as food prices increase and global food supplies are increasingly uncertain. Food banks also receive literally tonnes of much needed fresh food from local community gardening efforts in communities all around Ontario.” The province of BC includes in its list of essential services: “food cultivation, including farming, livestock, aquaculture and fishing, and businesses that support the food supply chain, as well as community gardens and subsistence agriculture”.

For more information please contact:
Benjamin Hill, MLFPC Chair

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.