Despite being a huge country, Canada has relatively little dependable farmland. Good soil and a friendly climate are hard to find.
So it seems like good news that on a clear day you can see about half of the best agricultural land in all of Canada from the top of Toronto's CN Tower. If we are to feed our growing urban populations, having foodlands close to where people live will be critical to sustaining local food security.
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Thankfully, southern Ontario has been blessed with an abundance of Class 1 soils — a scarce and vital resource. However, an increasing proportion of the best soils can know be found beneath roads, malls and subdivisions. As communities throughout the Greater Golden Horseshoe have grown, agricultural lands and natural areas have been paved over.
And a new study released yesterday by the David Suzuki Foundation has revealed that our sprawling ways haven't stopped.
Despite having strong sprawl-busting policies on the books in Ontario, like the Greenbelt Act and Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan, green spaces closest to urban centres in the region remain under intense development pressure.
The study examined a 94,000-hectare patchwork of farms, forests and wetlands called the "Whitebelt Study Area". It warns that this productive mosaic of green space is at risk as urban area in the Golden Horseshoe expands at a blistering pace.
Local municipalities have proposed developing more than 10,000 hectares of the Whitebelt over the next three decades. This is in addition to the 52,000 hectares of natural areas that the province had already approved for development across the region before new policies meant to curb urban sprawl came into effect. Together these lands are more than twice as big as the entire City of Mississauga.
Paving over prime farmland and natural assets like wetlands for sprawling urban growth is foolhardy. Studies have shown that croplands and farms in the Golden Horseshoe contribute hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to the local economy, from a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables, beef, pork, dairy, and award-winning wines.
Furthermore, the David Suzuki Foundation's latest report shows that the region represents a literal Fort Knox of natural benefits that we typically take for granted: trees clean the air, wetlands filter water, and rich productive farmland soils store green house gases that contribute to climate change. The remaining unprotected green space and farmland at the edge of the towns and cities of the Golden Horseshoe generate over $122 million in such ecological benefits annually.
I believe that if we value local food and want to maintain the critical benefits that nature provides, we should put food and water first. That's why we're calling on municipalities and the provincial government to redouble their efforts to protect our remaining farmland and green space from costly and polluting urban sprawl.
You can contribute to the conversation yourself on twitter at #FoodAndWaterFirst.