OFA president discusses potential Greenbelt development

OFA president discusses potential Greenbelt development
Nov 11, 2022

Peggy Brekveld encourages concerned farmers and Ontarians to contact their MPPs

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

Farmland needs to be preserved.

That’s the message Ontario Federation of Agriculture President Peggy Brekveld reiterated while discussing the provincial government’s plans to open the Greenbelt for development.

“Once we build out and sprawl, it doesn’t use the existing infrastructure very well,” she told Farms.com. “It also puts farmland under concrete, and once that land is lost, it never comes back. How do you feed those cities? Putting more houses onto farmland is not appropriate or acceptable.”

The government is proposing removing 7,400 acres of land across 15 different locations to make way for 50,000 homes.

The Ford government then promises to add 2,000 acres to the Greenbelt on top of replacing the 7,400 acres it needs for the houses.

The government’s plan includes the Paris Galt Moraine and 13 river valleys around the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

But that land doesn’t compare to the arable land in jeopardy of being lost, Brekveld said.

“As I understand it, the additions have one piece of possible farmland,” she said. “The rest of it is riverbeds and along waterways, so they’re not adding or preserving any farmland. Most of it is riverbeds and along waterways, which is already publicly owned and protected by other pieces of legislation.”

Building these homes on the Greenbelt is a way to address the ongoing housing crisis, the Ontario government says.

Brekveld acknowledges homes are needed, but they can be constructed without paving over good farmland, she said.

“You need to build inside of the urban footprint,” she said. “We need to build in and up, and we can review and renew those great urban footprints.”

The OFA started a campaign in 2021 to shed light on urban sprawl and the affects it has on agriculture.

The OFA’s Home Grown campaign helps highlight how Ontario is losing 319 acres of farmland each day.

To put that number into context, the Rogers Centre, where the Toronto Blue Jays play, sits on about 12.7 acres of land.

Therefore, Ontario loses about 25 Rogers Centres of farmland every day.

And while innovation is a big part of agriculture, land is the most important part of farming, she said.

“Crops need land and soil, it’s as simple as that,” she said. “We can innovate all we want but you’re not going to be growing wheat in a container.”

OFA has engaged with members of the provincial government, including Premier Ford and minister of agriculture Lisa Thompson, as well as other stakeholders, to raise awareness about this issue.

One potential positive outcome of the government’s proposal is the resistance it has received from environmental groups and urban organizations, along with farm organizations.

This solidarity helps show food production is important no matter where one lives, Brekveld said.

“Whether you live in the city or the country, you need food,” she said. “Food matters to all of us, and farmers need good land to be able to produce food.”

Ontarians have until Dec. 5 to submit feedback about the Ford government’s housing plan for the Greenbelt.

Brekveld encourages any concerned Ontarians to become engaged in the process.

“Write to you local MPPs, or call them, or submit a comment,” she said. “Use your voice to tell them this is not good for the future of agriculture in Ontario.”

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