It’s great that the Ontario Greenbelt has added another 400 hectares to its protected ring around the Toronto region. The fields and forests of northern Oakville will now remain untouched by urban sprawl.
But spare a moment for the small-scale farmers who live and work in these protected areas. Lost in the environmental policies that rightly safeguard a huge swath of green space, is a defined plan to help farmers co-exist — even thrive — amid protective rules.
If local agriculture is as important as Premier Dalton McGuinty recently claimed, while announcing plans for a Local Food Act, then the Liberal government must first create stronger protections for its farmers.
They are losing the freedom to flourish, clipped by well-meaning rules from overlapping environmental bodies. No one will argue against the protection of such rich and important land by the Greenbelt Act, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act and various regional conservation authority laws.
But layers of confusing regulations can impede a farmer’s ability to, say, modernize his milk production, erect new buildings or change livestock from cattle to chickens as the market demands. As well, complaints from city folk moving nearby are hampering the use of manure on fields or tractors on busy gridlocked roads.