Growing Urgent

It’s interesting that, just as the U.S. is pondering whether to honour the Paris Climate Change agreement, Clean Technica is drawing attention to research with alarming implications for the future of food security by 2050:

“Global production of the 4 most important staple crops in the world — maize/corn, wheat, rice, and soybeans — will be reduced by around 23% by the 2050s as a result of worsening anthropogenic climate change, according to new research published in the journal Economics of Disasters and Climate Change.

Notably, even by the 2030s — not that long from now — production of the staple crops mentioned above are expected to fall by ~9%, owing to rising temperatures (both rising minimums and maximums), increasingly extreme weather, and drought.

It should be noted that the findings don’t take into account rising soil depletion/erosion problems, the possibility of synthetic fertilizer shortages, or the possibility of large-scale wars or social breakdown. In other words, things could get notably worse than the figures above, which are already quite extreme.”  Continue reading

Prices – They Are a Changing

Real estate prices have been in the headlines lately. Buying mania has reached our Innisfil neck of the woods over the last couple of years but I doubt foreign buyers are involved. Looking back over some figures, my property tax increased 73% in the last 16 years (an average of 3.7% per year); “market value” assessment increased by 133% (about 6.3% a year); but the current speculative market value of my property has increased about 500% (or more?) based on real estate agents’ estimates and recent home sales in the area. That’s about 10%/year compounded rate of appreciation.

We get approached about listing our home possibly once a week by mail or in person. I’m told that some real estate agents Continue reading

Food for Thought

A while back I mentioned a report that suggested more than half of the province’s $20 billion of food imports could be replaced with locally sourced products. (Of Bubbles and Bushels). Replacing just 10% of fruit and vegetable imports was projected to add $242 million to provincial GDP and add up to 3,400 FTE [full time equivalent] jobs.

Since then we’ve had a glimpse of how unstable things could become economically, and politically as well as environmentally, in the coming years. A political storm could outweigh climate change as our biggest threat. It would make sense to give this food security proposal some serious consideration.

The report, Dollars and Sense, suggested increasing some production, diverting a portion of exports and redistributing this fruit and vegetable surplus to Ontario regions where supply is lacking. This would achieve the goal of reducing transportation ‘food miles’, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It also suggested increasing processing and storage of more products for winter consumption.

“A 10% reduction in imports of the top 10 imported vegetables does not necessarily call for additional local production to make up the difference. In some cases, such as tomatoes, peppers, carrots and sweet corn, it may involve diverting some exports to offset the import reduction. In others — for example, cabbage, lettuce and green beans — increased production may be needed. These different situations have somewhat different economic and environmental impacts.”

Our region, included in ‘The Outer Greater Golden Horseshoe’ accounts for “at least $2.4 billion worth of farm products” but has a “deficit position” for most fruits and vegetables. Carrots, onions, sweet corn and potatoes are the exception.  Continue reading

Fallen Forests, 2

My last article illustrated the loophole that developers exploit to clear forested land long before any rezoning or development approvals are granted. The particular example was of a tract in New Tecumseth where 30 acres of trees are being removed by Tecumseth Estates under the guise of “agricultural expansion”.

In case readers think this is an isolated incident, it’s not difficult to find other examples. In fact, the same developer pulled a similar stunt in Innisfil, although on a much smaller scale. In 2011, under the name Alriz Development Ltd., an application was made for a Special Permit to clear approximately 3 acres “to expand an existing agricultural area”. This was a small portion of 135 acres on the 7th Line, 100 acres of which was agricultural.  Continue reading

Putting Our Food Charter in the Zone

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a big fan of the Transition movement, which advocates for greater local self-sufficiency to build resilience against environmental and economic shocks. Transition is not intended as a policy guide for governments but rather an action guide for ordinary citizens. But I’m going to spend some time looking at how this underlying philosophy could influence planning activities in Innisfil, such as Our Place and other routine civic governance.

Actively supporting Transition would require that we focus on greater self-sufficiency in our basic needs – food; energy; transportation; housing and employment. Let’s start with food. The County of Simcoe formally adopted a Food Charter in 2013 developed by 12 “organizing partners” including Barrie and Orillia working together as the Food Partners Alliance of Simcoe County. The Food Charter itself is an inspiring document full of noble intentions. Here are some quotes:

  • “For farming to remain a vital part of our economy for generations to come, and to ensure regional food security, agricultural lands as a natural resource will need to be protected.”
  • “Made up of the people, places, and processes involved in the production of food, our local food system includes such functions as the growing, harvesting, marketing, processing, packaging, storing and distribution of food …”
  • “Working together to remove the physical and financial barriers to food access, promote healthy eating, and increase access to places where people can buy, grow or otherwise obtain healthy foods, is an important step towards eliminating hunger.”
  • “Enhancing opportunities for local food and agriculture-related businesses or producers (both large and small scale) to produce, store, package, promote, sell, and deliver their products locally and elsewhere is important for a sustainable food system and long-term economic growth.”
  • “The people of Simcoe County should seek new opportunities for increasing food production in both rural and urban areas, advocate for the protection of farmland, and support increased educational opportunities in agriculture (for both large- and small-scale farming)”

How’s that working for us so far? Well, if you visit the Food Partners Alliance web site, the focus seems to be solely on individuals and organizations assuming responsibility for implementing this ‘vision’. Let’s look at the practical aspects of land use planning in Innisfil as if the Food Charter mattered.

Continue reading

Are Cities a No-Farming Zone?

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. Continue reading