Greenbelt Foundation research indicates that municipalities face various challenges to addressing agricultural issues
By Jackie Clark
The Greenbelt Foundation is examining the capacity of municipalities across Ontario to support the agricultural sector.
Findings from research conducted in collaboration with University of Guelph researchers were published in a report titled Enhancing Municipal Capacity to Support Agriculture in the Greenbelt, according to an Oct. 7 release.
The researchers were seeking to understand “the relative resources that different municipalities have when dealing with agricultural issues,” Dr. Wayne Caldwell, professor of rural planning and development at the University of Guelph and lead author on the report, told Farms.com.
The work was partly inspired by good examples of municipalities supporting ag.
“In some parts of the province, municipalities are going beyond traditional planning to also do things around the environment, water quality programs,” Caldwell explained. The ability to do so is “a function of the capacity that the municipalities have.”
In municipalities with more limited resources, “it’s more challenging for farms and agriculture to make their story be known, and to get the proper attention of the municipality to deal with issues that are really important to agriculture,” he added.
Caldwell and his colleagues surveyed municipalities together quantitative data, like the budget or number of planners on staff. For qualitative information, “we did a follow-up set of interviews with planners and with elected officials as well, to get a sense of the capacity issues and opportunities from their point of view,” he said.
Of the 87 elected officials from 51 municipalities who responded to the survey, over 60 per cent indicated that municipal council members had family members who farm or had owned, grown up on, had previous work experience, or currently own or work on a farm.
That data seems to indicate that the agriculture sector is represented among elected officials, however the capacity for municipalities to address agricultural concerns still faces challenges.
“Key challenges identified by interviewees included inconsistent staff resources and budgets, expanding mandates, relationships with the agriculture community, and accessing relevant tools and/or training for agricultural and rural planning,” according to the report.
“The province tends to ask more of municipalities as time goes by … as the province pulls out of some things, that responsibility falls to the municipalities,” Caldwell explained.
“Do the municipalities, in fact, have the budgetary and staff resources to fulfill what’s being asked of them?” he asked.
The researchers identified ten opportunities to improve capacity, including fostering collaboration across municipalities, more learning opportunities for planners, and building relationships with the agricultural community and engaging farmers in planning.
Having municipal staff with a knowledge and understanding of agricultural issues and systems “makes a world of difference,” Caldwell said.
“This is an issue that extends beyond the GTA,” he added.
The current report focused on Greater Golden Horseshoe and Greenbelt area of Ontario, but “we’ve got a second phase of the study that’s just rolling out now which will look at the entire province,” he explained.
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