Despite a spring snowstorm, the Food & Water First Public Meeting (April 5) was a tremendous success! About 200 people attended the Shelburne gathering to learn more about Ontario’s rare agricultural soil, the province’s $34-billion agri-food sector and the fate of the farmland once threatened with the Mega Quarry.
Professor Rene Van Acker
Three speakers addressed the packed meeting, starting with Professor Rene Van Acker, a soil expert from the University of Guelph. He described the value of Ontario’s prime farmland and regular rainfall, how this combination of soil and climate is unique. He explained that the most prosperous countries are those with the most rain-fed agricultural land. But Professor Van Acker also stressed it was important to preserve this farmland for food production. “Food is of the land, we are the food we eat, therefore we are of the land,” he said. “The circle of our existence on this planet completes itself most intimately and most obviously through food. And herein lies the fundamental value of the land, and of farmland in particular.” He added that defending our farmland “is not only noble, but fundamentally necessary.”
We’re Feeding the World
Steve Peters, Alliance of Ontario Food Processors
The importance of prime farmland was echoed in the comments made by Steve Peters, the Executive Director of the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors. Our rare soil is one of the main ingredients of the province’s vital agri-food sector which employs 700,000 people. Peters told the audience Ontario processes 40 percent of the food processed in Canada, adding that our food and water resources have a great reputation. “We’re not just feeding ourselves,” he said. “We’re feeding the world.” He also warned that our desire for cheap imported food hurts our local food producers. “We must be more conscious of where our food comes from.”
Keep Farmers Profitable
Bonnefield’s Tom Eisenhauer addressing the F&WF meeting
The final speaker was, perhaps, the most anticipated. Tom Eisenhauer of Bonnefield Financial outlined what is happening on the 6,500-acres of Class 1 farmland once owned by the Highland Companies and slated to become the Mega Quarry. The crowd cheered when he announced that Highland is no longer a tenant, marking the end of a difficult chapter in the community’s recent history. As for the fields, Eisenhauer explained that six farmers are leasing the bulk of the farmland; some smaller acreages and houses have been sold; three existing houses will have to be demolished because of the condition they were left in by Highland; other homes are being rebuilt; and all of the investors in Bonnefield are Canadian with no interest in aggregate or wind turbines.
Eisenhauer admitted that he could not guarantee the land will be farmed forever, but added the best way to keep the land in food production was to “keep farmers profitable.” He also emphasized that “farming should be discussed as economic policy, not social policy.”
Our thanks to MC Dale Goldhawk for leading a lively and informative discussion, our many Partners who attended, the volunteers who made the event possible and all those who braved a stormy Saturday morning to learn more about the land that feeds us.