Chelsea Murray, This Magazine
Ian Willms, Photos
Published: August 19, 2011
Robert Beynon’s dairy farm sits just north of the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill, on one of the southernmost edges of Ontario’s greenbelt. It’s a small operation (40 cows, 350 acres) set back off of busy Bathurst Street. Behind his 150-year-old brick farmhouse and squat green dairy barn stretches a patchwork of bare fields, still muddy in mid-April. It’s the kind of pastoral scene city dwellers naturally think farms look like.
What those urbanites likely wouldn’t picture is what surrounds Beynon’s piece of rural paradise. Across the road, on the east side of Bathurst, sprawls MacLeod’s Landing, a 1,400-unit subdivision of looping streets and oversized homes. Houses bleed north onto former agricultural land—much of which Beynon’s family used to farm. He’d like to expand his property, but it’s boxed in on one side by the development, and on another by land slated to become a cemetery. Besides, he says, “The land’s too expensive, and you wouldn’t want to set up a bigger dairy operation next to a subdivision. Everyone loves the idea of living in the country, but they don’t really want to live beside somebody milking a couple hundred head of cows.” Later he wonders aloud, “And who wants to farm in the city when it comes down to it?”
Beynon is 33 years old; he’s no grizzled old-timer ready to retire. When he was still in school at the University of Guelph, taking a farm operations program, he and his father made plans to move outside of the GTA, away from the already encroaching houses, to buy more land and milk more cows. But in 2001, the Oak Ridges Moraine Act became law. (The moraine area’s 470,000 acres run from Brampton to past Cobourg.) The result was strict land-use regulations dictating how farmers could alter or expand their operations. There was also a moratorium on intensive development, but that didn’t stop construction on MacLeod’s Landing; the development was grandfathered because it had been approved before the moraine policy was created. There was no such provision for Beynon, whose family has owned its land for 150 years.