Food Policy Council Intro Statement on Ontario Greenbelt Legislation

A FOOD SECURITY BELT RUNS THROUGH IT:
SMART GROWTH AGRICULTURE FOR A SMART GROWTH GREENBELT

There are many grounds for protecting a million-acre greenbelt in the Golden Horseshoe:

  • grounds where water can be strained and cleaned before it's used for drinking;
  • grounds where greenery filters foul air and purifies breezes with fresh oxygen;
  • grounds where endangered species can escape extinction;
  • grounds where historic towns inspire homegrown businesses and main streets with local character, where neighboring farmers buy supplies and feel at home;
  • grounds where city residents gain access to unspoiled nature;
  • grounds where ingredients grow for food processors, the biggest industrial employers in the Greater Toronto Area;
  • grounds limiting the sprawl that robs cities of the numbers, social mix and tax base needed for diverse and specialized services -- from restaurants to libraries, hospitals and post-secondary institutions - the lifeblood of a multicultural society and a knowledge-based economy.

But the greenbelt high ground - with fertility and heat units unmatched elsewhere in Canada - relates to food security. Protecting today's and tomorrow's food security for some 10 million Golden Horseshoe residents is the highest use and most compelling need met by a greenbelt. Food is always best grown close to home, where safety is easily monitored, where food is sold fresh, making polluting fuels and fungicides unnecessary, and where food purchases strengthen the local economy. As we enter a turbulent era when oil, water and food itself will be scarce, it behooves responsible governments to treat food security based on regional self-reliance like any other measure of emergency preparedness. That entails proactive measures to secure both farmland and farmers.

The Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt can protect endangered species and spaces. They are defenceless against pavement and parking lots, so legislation is needed to protect bio-diversity, the vital mechanism that steers nature toward balance. On World Food Day, 2004, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization honoured the crucial role of biodiversity in human food production. This respects that "variety is the spice of life," and warns against "putting all eggs in one basket." Greenbelt protection of endangered species and spaces keeps up with this latest in food science.

Biodiversity supports agriculture, and farmers - themselves endangered - can support biodiversity. Greenbelt plans should include European-style environmental fees for farmers who provide "free" and "natural" services that save public money. A stitch in time saves nine. A government that can afford highways for polluting trucks carrying imported food can pay farmers to reduce the need for imports and pollution. Likewise, a government that pays medical bills for lungs harmed by smog can afford to pay farmers to offset air pollution. Paying farmers for this kind of property value and property management is simply smart growth agriculture. It also helps farmers finance retirement without selling the farm.

A sound greenbelt strategy puts the meat of food security on the bones of smart growth infrastructure. If a greenbelt just stops sprawl, we could end up with countryside theme parks, gated communities of hobby farms, gravel pits, garbage dumps and factory hog barns - a greenbelt without heart, soul or societal value. Infrastructure - massive openings for farmers markets, and major expansion of farm extension programs, for starters -- provides the overhead for a greenbelt economy worthy of greenbelt protection. There are many no- and low-cost ways to finance infrastructure that saves farms by stimulating a greenbelt economy that promotes public health and the environment.

A greenbelt that protects food security will put culture back into agriculture, restoring local flavor, season, place and thankfulness. It will also increase access to culturally acceptable foods for Ontario's diverse ethno-cultural groups. Such minority needs are poorly served by an industrial food system that relies on mass production of products that can be mass-marketed and mass-distributed in affluent white suburbs of the United States. The new greenbelt economy will add cultural, health and economic value by responding to multiculturalism.

There's more to food than meets the mouth. Food is intertwined with all aspects of life. Not surprisingly, therefore, food security is intertwined with protecting Ontario's greenbelt. A protected greenbelt is a crucial start, but being proactive about all aspects of food security is a hallmark of smart growth planning.

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The Toronto Food Policy Council manages this information service for people working on food issues with community organizations, social agencies, public health units, educational institutions and municipal governments. If you would like to share information on community gardens, urban agriculture, farmers markets, school meals, obesity, social determinants of health and diet, local food systems, or educational and anti-hunger initiatives in your area, please send them to Wayne Roberts at wrobert@toronto.ca or tfpc@toronto.ca. Opinions expressed in items carried through this information service do not, unless explicitly stated, reflect the views of either the Toronto Food Policy Council or Toronto Public Health.

If you would like to view the TFPC's website, please visit us at: http://www.toronto.ca/health/tfpc_index.htm