Preserving a Viable Agricultural System

The agricultural sector reportedly contributes more than 37 billion dollars to Ontario’s GDP. As population continues to grow, the Ontario government has released a draft document, Implementation Procedures for the Agricultural System in Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe. It is intended to provide greater clarity and guidance to municipal planners for the preservation of prime agricultural lands.

Especially closer to Toronto, the fear is that remaining farming enterprises are becoming more scattered and isolated from the necessary agricultural support services that would help them remain viable. Farmers have told the government that they need assurance that agricultural lands will have long-term protection in order to plan for new investments in farming assets.

“At this time, protection of agricultural land varies across the GGH. Similar land may be designated prime agricultural area in one municipality and designated rural lands across the municipal boundary, even when soils and other land use characteristics are comparable. While all planning decisions must be consistent with the PPS [Provincial Policy Statement] and conform with other applicable provincial land use plans, there may be differences in policy interpretation and application due to differing study methodologies and growth pressures from one municipality to another.”  Continue reading

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Climate Change Survival

It’s another season of local flooding, see-saw temperatures, western wild fires and severe storms to the south. Locally, we are hearing some farmers around Simcoe County lament the losses that they are, and will be, suffering this year.

Now, a new study published in the journal, Science, predicts that “unmitigated climate change will damage the poorest-third of US counties to the tune of 20% of total income. The regions that will be hit the hardest in the US over the coming years economically will be primarily in the South and in the lower Midwest. In other words, economic centers will be likely to move northwards, leaving the hotter, southern parts of the US impoverished …”.

(Perhaps not wanting to wait, Missouri just voted to lower the minimum wage in St. Louis by 23% from $10/hour to $7.70/hour, but that’s another story.)  Continue reading

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

Of Bubbles and Bushels

Here we are approaching the end of another year. It seems many of us will be glad to call an end to 2016 but equally anxious about what’s ahead in 2017. There should be a sign, “Caution – Bumpy Road Ahead”. I’d like to share some of the reading I’ve been doing that seems particularly relevant now.

First off, I came across an interesting discussion of the Carbon Bubble, “the idea that there is a bubble in valuation of companies dependent on fossil-fuel-based energy production” (Wikipedia):

“As futurist Alex Steffen recently explained, vast amounts of the world’s carbon reserves can never be tapped, so their pricing represents a “carbon bubble” analogous to but even worse than the subprime housing bubble. The Carbon Bubble will pop,” Steffen wrote, not when high-carbon practices become impossible, but when their profits cease to be seen as reliable.”

To maintain the carbon bubble, an array of strategies are required: disputing the science of climate change, attacking global climate agreements, undercutting low-carbon
 alternatives and preserving fossil fuel subsidies.” (What Populist Revolution?, Salon Media, Dec 26, 2016)  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

It’s Up to Us on October 27

Our municipal election for Mayor and Council gives us another opportunity to help shape Innisfil’s future. The fact that most positions are being contested is a good indication of a healthy democratic process. I only hope that all candidates want to campaign “for”, not “against”. That is, I expect them to articulate a vision for improving the quality of life in Innisfil and their plan to achieve it. Their challenge will be to look beyond everyday problems and tackle some larger issues:

Population Growth & Sprawl

By 2031, the population is expected to grow by 70% (56,000 residents)” – Town of Innisfil web site. Innisfil has a provincially-mandated obligation to plan for population growth and at the same time an obligation to work within the Smart Growth limitations of the province’s Places to Grow framework. How committed are candidates to the objectives of the Places to Grow strategy? How well do candidates understand the principles of Smart Growth? How can we best manage growth and urban intensification?

Does Agriculture Have a Future Here?

Large parts of Innisfil were rezoned long ago for future development, so on paper, there appears to be no loss of agricultural land. But in reality, new development will continue to eat up existing open space and remaining agricultural spaces will be increasingly fragmented. Do we want to preserve agricultural uses close to our urbanized areas, and if so, how? Simcoe County is promoting the concept of a Food Charter but what measures are needed to give it real impact? Where will the next generation of food producers come from?

More Greenbelt or Not?

A group of Ontario Mayors is actively promoting the idea of substantially expanding Ontario’s greenbelt to include designated “Food Lands” ahead of a provincial review of the Greenbelt legislation required next year. Where do our candidates stand? Will they commit to preserving more regional green space?

Local Employment

The aim of smart growth is to create ‘complete’ neighbourhoods where we “live, work, and play”. In a national economy focused on resource extraction, most local jobs being created lately are part-time. How can Innisfil cope with chronic youth unemployment and an aging population? What employment opportunities can we create for ourselves, by ourselves?

Income Inequality

Real wages have been stagnant for decades. All across Canada, the divide between ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s is wider than ever. At the municipal level, the province’s ‘Sunshine List’ of those receiving $100,000 or more in compensation rankles many people every year. In Innisfil, there were 14 senior administrative employees receiving a total of $1.6 million in 2010 – excluding taxable benefits. In 2013, this had grown to 22 people receiving just under $2.7 million, or an average of $122,276 each. The Town reports average “total per capita income” here at $36,311 and average household income at $75,799. Half of all Innifil households earn less than $66,132. What’s fair? How do we get off the ‘keeping up with the Jones’ payroll treadmill?

Property Tax Base

Related to the previous issue is the antiquated property tax system. Conservatives like to point out that there is only one taxpayer. Combining all the taxes we pay (income, sales, gasoline, etc.) the federal government scoops up more than half while municipalities are left with just 8% to provide most of the essential services we rely on. Municipal Development Charges are a key revenue source in this environment. How do we build a modern, dynamic, livable community on a shoe-string? What alternative can we find to property-based taxation?

Innovation

According to one writer, the key to municipal success is to think big – innovate, don’t follow. What big ideas can our candidates bring to the table? What original, ground-breaking ideas can improve the quality of life in Innisfil and inspire others to look up and take notice?