In 2011, an application for a giant quarry by an American hedge fund came to light in Melancthon Township, near Orangeville ON. The project would be the second largest open-pit mine in North America and has been strongly opposed by residents due to its threats to local farmland, groundwater, and ecosystems.
The company bought 8,000 acres of land, informing local farmers that they intended to create Ontario’s largest potato farm. In reality, they applied to build a quarry. The project needs provincial approval to go through, but after significant efforts by Ontarians, the provincial government announced that a rare “full environmental assessment” would be required to assess the impacts of the quarry before a decision is made.
If there’s something we learned from our province’s 30,000+ person contribution to World Food Day, FoodStock, it’s that Ontarians (both urban and rural folk) strongly value their farmland, local food jobs, and the delicious dishes we make from it all.
This shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Not long ago, we didn’t have the type of food culture and economy we do today. Although we did have many more farmers, it is unlikely that we would have found tens of thousands of people making their way to a distant land on a chilly autumn afternoon just to take a political stand regarding their local food.
In the past, a proposal for a giant open-pit mine would have brought about concerned environmentalists focused on water quality and land degradation, alongside concerned locals who worry about environmental threats to their community. While these groups have again led the opposition, they have found that their greatest support is now coming from a burgeoning movement comprised of people who consider food the primary reason to put their booted feet down.
Our present food system allows corporations, speculators, and hedge funds to make growing profits from higher food prices, land ownership, and destruction of the commons, while farmland loss, levels of food bank use, and atmospheric carbon continue to skyrocket. As the food movement grows, links are being made among a spectrum of stakeholders from farm labourers to those who experience urban poverty.
The ‘Stop the Mega-Quarry’ team has the strength to be a winning one. This large and diverse group should also lend their attention to other ongoing battles to halt the loss of farmland, no matter the jurisdiction. It is important that they focus on expanding and strengthening the Greenbelt, and pushing for provincial legislation to limit the scope of gas plants, mines, and sprawl. The Greenbelt, though good for the land, has failed to bring much benefit to farmers in the region. Through discussion of a variety of possibilities, Sustain Ontario and their partners could potentially help farmers more effectively feed cities and themselves, while also helping to counter the economic forces that push farmers to sell rather than keep their land.
Alliances are needed between with farmers, farm workers, and food processors in order to create policies that work for all aspects of the commodity chain. This movement, brought about by tens of thousands of people, is capable of not only shifting the political tide, but might also lead to more democratic discourse and policy change. We need to work to preserve farmland, and to create or improve programs and jobs that help to provide local, just, sustainable Ontario food to all.
The cue has come from the food sovereignty and food democracy movements of our southern neighbours. We must take food power back and return it to the hands of the people. With local and global sentiments for change and a stronger, burgeoning food movement, there could not be a better time to draw a line in our land, to raise our voice, and to say what we stand for.
Darcy Higgins is the founder of Food Forward and is a long-time advocate, writer, and organizer on sustainability issues. He has advised politicians and officials at institutional, municipal, provincial, and federal levels. Darcy maintains key interests in diversity, community engagement, and social media and enjoys exploring Toronto’s natural and built environments. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
Food Forward is a Toronto-based food advocacy organization that works to provide food that is healthy, local, sustainable, ethically produced, and accessible for all. Food Forward welcomes you to join the growing people-powered food movement. Become a member at: www.pushfoodforward.com/join.
For more information, and to sign the petition against the mega quarry, visit http://www.stopthemegaquarry.ca/.
To learn more about Sustain Ontario, please visit http://sustainontario.com/.