Ontario Farmland Trust: Farmland Forever Campaign Launched Ahead of 10 Year Anniversary
Farmland Forever, $1 Million Three Year Campaign Aimed at Protecting Farmland
By Amanda Brodhagen, Farms.com
Farmland is a finite resource, which is constantly facing pressures from urban sprawl and aggregate extraction. These factors put a strain on prime agricultural lands, while demand to produce more food, fibre, and fuel increases. This reality is especially true in the province of Ontario, where only five per cent of the land base can be cultivated for agricultural purposes.
A group based out of the University of Guelph recognized the importance of farmland preservation ten years ago, when the Ontario Farmland Trust (OFT), a non-profit charitable organization began to promote the permanent protection of farmland.
“The Ontario Farm Trust has grown separate from the university, while building on research that’s been done,” said Matt Setzkorn, acting executive director of OFT. The organization has three pillars of focus – put forward policy recommendations, engage in educational activities, and perhaps most importantly, focus on direct land protection work.
Next year will mark OFT’s tenth anniversary, and to commemorate its decade of success, the organization recently launched its largest initiative to date – the Farmland Forever campaign. The goal of the campaign is to raise one million dollars over the next three years.
“We have been doing a lot of reflection over this past year, and envisioning what the future of the organization will look like…the Farmland Forever campaign really builds on the work that we’ve done,” said Setzkorn.
To date, OFT has protected nine farms and about 900 acres through conservation easements. The Farmland Forever campaign seeks to scale up the number of farms to be protected through the easement process.
“We want to at least double that [number of protected farms] in the next five years…protecting twice has much land in half the time,” explains Setzkorn.
There was a soft launch for the campaign this fall, and momentum is beginning to grow. Two of the provinces’ largest farm lobby organizations, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario pledged their support for the campaign this summer before it was made public.
Additionally, long-time supporters of OFT, the Metcalf Foundation agreed to match dollar-for-dollar contributions up to $20,000 until December 31, 2013. OFT is encouraging supporters to give the gift of farmland this holiday session. Buying a $50 memberships count towards the Metcalf fundraising challenge.
In the past, OFT has relied heavily on grants, something which Setzkorn hopes will change with the Farmland Forever campaign. “There seems to be a groundswell of interest and momentum building around the issue of farmland preservation,” explains Setzkorn. “The unique aspect that we bring to the conversation is that we are the only organization in Ontario that has a province-wide mandate to promote the protection of farmland,” he said.
Farmland Forever addresses one of OFT’s biggest obstacles – funding. It costs about $50,000 to 75,000 to complete an easement transaction. While it’s an expensive process, Setzkorn says it is a small price to pay for leaving farmland as a legacy for future generations. Currently, there are about 20 farmers who want to work with the organization. “OFT would prefer to cover the costs…so that it’s not a burden on the landowner,” he said.
Early on in OFT’s history, one of the significant policy changes that they were able to support were changes to the Conservation Land Act. The enhancements to the act now allows for permitted groups like OFT to hold conservation easements for the purpose of protecting farmland. “Prior to the changes there was no real tool or mechanism to protect land for agricultural purposes in such a permanent fashion,” explains Setzkorn.
Conservation easements permanently protect farmland. It’s a voluntary agreement between OFT and willing landowners - farmers who want to protect their land. A conservation easement is a registered title on the land. Farmers still maintain ownership of the property, but the easement restricts that land for agriculture use only, no matter who owns the property. “It’s the most permanent tool that’s out there that a landowner can use,” said Setzkorn.
OFT can receive donations of land, but encourages the conservation easement path the most, says Setzkorn. Protected farms are from the Peel, Halton, Simcoe and Huron regions. Due to limited funds, the focus has largely been in Central Ontario, where there are more pressures on the agricultural land base.
To roll out OFT’s anniversary, the organization will be hosting a series of events including its annual Farmland Forum, which will be held sometime in March 2014, and the continuation of its one million dollar fundraising campaign. “I’m excited to be promoting the Farmland Forever campaign more in 2014,” Setzkorn says enthusiastically.
More information about OFT or to donate can be found at: http://ontariofarmlandtrust.ca/.