Despite its huge area, 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 the best agricultural land in Canada from the top of Toronto’s CN Tower. If we’re to feed our growing urban populations, having food lands close to where people live will be critical to sustaining local food security.
Some regions of the country, like the Golden Horseshoe surrounding Toronto, have been blessed with an abundance of Class 1 soils. But an increasing proportion of the best soils in the Golden Horseshoe and in most urbanized regions of Canada now lie beneath sprawling housing developments, highways, strip malls and other infrastructure. As urban communities have grown over the years, agricultural lands and natural areas have far too often been drained, dug up and paved over.
According to a study by Statistics Canada, our growing cities sprawl over what once was mostly farmland. Only 5 per cent of Canada’s entire land base is suitable for growing food. At the same time, urban uses have consumed more than 7,400 square kilometres of dependable farmland in recent decades. That’s an area almost three times the size of Prince Edward Island.
Almost half of Canada’s urban base now occupies land that only a few generations ago was being farmed. For the most part, this land can’t be used for agriculture again, despite efforts of city people to use community gardens, green roofs and even guerrilla gardening to grow food.
Though there are strong sprawl-busting policies in provinces such as Ontario, with its internationally renowned Greenbelt Act and Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan, prime farmland and rare ecosystems in the region, like wetlands, remain at risk from further urban development.
A recent study by the David Suzuki Foundation examined threats to farmland in a 94,000-hectare patchwork of farms, forests and wetlands circling Toronto and its surrounding suburbs, called the Whitebelt Study Area. The report warns that this productive mosaic of green space and rich farmland is at risk from the blistering pace of urban expansion in the Golden Horseshoe.