By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
Preserving agriculture and resisting the push to develop land around Thornbury was a passionate discussion for members of the Grey County Federation of Agriculture (GCFA) at their annual meeting held October 13 at Walter’s Falls.
“People do not understand how valuable the microclimate is around Georgian Bay,” said Randy McLeod of Clarksburg. “If the federal government is trying to reduce fertilizer usage, should we not be preserving the best farmland which provides the best opportunity for being profitable?”
John Ardiel of Ardiel Acres Ltd and the Ardiel Cider House, an apple grower in Beaver Valley said the area he lives in has the largest apple production in Ontario. “We depend on this special agricultural land, not just the soil, but the moderate temperatures of Georgian Bay.” He says Blue Mountain is putting “unbelievable development pressure” on agricultural lands.
“That seems to be falling on deaf ears around here,” said Ardiel. “It seems our politicians are not willing to preserve agricultural land.” Farmers are in competition not only with urban dwellers but with developers who are eager to buy up bare and vacant farms to build, build, build. He feels politicians are more concerned about saving woodland and shrubland than saving agricultural land.
Paul Vickers, the Zone 2 Director for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), was in full support, saying “not one person in this room would disagree with you.” He explained this is why the OFA is trying to educate Grey County politicians and planners to understand why this area is so critical to preserve for apple growing and other agricultural interests.
“Grey County is behind the curve on development. We are working hard to implement better planning,” he added.
Vickers then revealed that over 300 acres of farmland are taken out of production each day. “We lose 319 acres per day to urbanization, roads and development. It is getting swallowed up fast.”
Understanding the definition of an acre is critical to helping urbanites realize how large this loss is. Many people cannot visualize what an acre is. Vickers says the way he explains it, a farmer can grow 50 bushels of wheat per acre which results in 3,000 loaves of bread. Multiply 3,000 loaves by 319 and that comes to over 950,000 loaves of bread lost every day.
When people understand the magnitude of the loss, they may be more willing to sign the farmland preservation petition OFA has started to protect valuable farmland. It’s called the Home Grown petition and Vickers encouraged everyone at the meeting to sign it electronically and then explain the issue to their neighbours and get them to sign it too. The petition can be found at homegrownofa.ca
“We can use this petition to show politicians how important this issue is,” said Vickers.
It was also mentioned how important orchards and farmland are for storing carbon and that the government should be recognizing farmers’ contributions with carbon tax credits.
Alex Ruff, MP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound encouraged those present to share their best ideas because he would be willing to put forward a private member’s bill to protect the interests of agriculture in Grey County.
Other highlights of Grey’s annual meeting included:
– A magical act by Steve Baker of Baker’s Magic Show. The former teacher says he spends many days on the road amazing those in health care, business and schools.
– The Building Careers and Futures in Agriculture bursary was presented to Brinlee Pennings to support her education
– A summary of the year was provided by GCFA president, Dianne Booker, who said youth is one of Grey’s main priorities and why they support the BCFA, 4-H and speaking competitions for students.
– Vickers high-lighted the four key points of OFA’s strategic plan which are sustainability, consumer trust, farm viability and farmers as advocates and teachers. He also advised everyone to sign up for the OFA newsletter, called E-blasts, so they can stay abreast of current issues. ◊