Two entrepreneurs planned to open a new aquaponic venture, Aqua Greens which combines the cultivation of edible plants and fish in a controlled, self-sustaining indoor environment. (Aquaponics turn suburban industrial park into farmland, Christopher Hume, Jan 25 2015) They first wanted to locate their business in Toronto but were told that their preferred location was not legally zoned for agriculture. Limited only to some unworkable spaces within Toronto, the company set up in Mississauga instead.
This is in spite of the fact that similar ventures operate successfully in North America and Europe. Fresh City Farms in Downsview Park includes a 2,000 SF aquaponics operation. I have written previously about Lufa Farms, which operates two large facilities in the Montreal area. This type of farming is becoming more prevalent because technology has made it possible at a time when unpredictable and unstable climate change is making it necessary. It’s financially attractive because plants grow faster in optimal conditions, allowing more frequent harvests and continuous production all-year.
Innisfil Council is caught up in the debate about zoning for medical marihuana facilities. Staff wants to keep these businesses off of existing farmland, directing them instead to areas zoned ‘Industrial-General’ and ‘Business Park’. Surprisingly, the current town zoning is silent on the subject of urban farming and does not mention processing or manufacturing of foods either.
Council will consider a zoning amendment on March 18 specifically dealing with zoning for medical marihuana. It would seem more beneficial to amend zoning to allow urban farming in general within our settlement areas. This could be subject to conditions banning any negative factors. These already exist for manufacturing zoning and include noxious fumes, noise, waste or effluent. A quick estimation of net benefit might include tax revenue, employment, smaller carbon footprint, efficient use of water, proximity to markets and greater food security.
As farmland and open space continues to erode within Innisfil’s boundaries, it makes sense to compensate the loss with more productive ‘farmland’ within urban areas. Innisfil and other cities should look beyond the narrow prospect of medical marahuana to consider the larger potential opportunities of urban farming.