The Niagara Agriculture Municipal Learning Network engages with municipal elected officials and staff
By Diego Flammini
A new project in the Niagara region is designed to bridge the gap between the ag community and local elected officials.
The Niagara Agriculture Municipal Learning Network (NAMLN), operated by Brock University’s Niagara Community Observatory, is looking to help municipal governments support ag in the region.
THE NAMLN is creating a network of people within Niagara to share resources that will help councilors consider agriculture when making policy decisions.
“We’re looking to help grow municipal capacity to support agriculture in the Niagara region,” Project Lead Amy Lemay told Farms.com. “By capacity we mean the ability of municipalities to access and use resources that inform their decisions related to agriculture.”
Niagara has a regional government plus 12 municipal governments: Fort Erie, Grimsby, Lincoln, Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Pelham, Port Colborne, St. Catharines, Thorold, Wainfleet, Welland and West Lincoln.
Niagara is home to just over 4 per cent of total farms in Ontario, but about 5.5 per cent of the total value of provincial gross farm receipts, or about $838 million.
“Most people recognize the importance of agriculture in Niagara,” Lemay said.
While recognition is good, a lack of capacity is what led to the creation of the NAMLN project.
A Greenbelt Foundation report from 2021 which surveyed 60 municipalities found most of them have less than one full-time person dedicated to ag issues.
“The report really raised issues like accessing information, building relationships, identifying and leveraging opportunities,” Lemay said.
The ag community is supportive of the project.
Representatives from the Niagara ag sector provided letters of support and input to identify the issues and priorities they want NAMLN to prioritize in policy briefs.
Priorities included soil health, irrigation and on-farm diversification, Lemay said.
And farmers will welcome visitors to their farms this summer.
“We’re doing two farm tours where municipal staff and officials can meet with farmers and experience some of the issues and challenges farmers face that could be influenced by policy decisions being made by municipalities,” Lemay said.
It’s important for municipal leaders to understand agriculture isn’t like any other sector.
While it’s viewed in the same light as other sectors that are profit-driven, agriculture has multiple other factors to consider, Lemay said.
“Farmers face external forces, like weather, or geopolitical interference, that are beyond their control,” she said. “One farmer told me he was expected to feed the country, drive the economy and save the environment. We expect a lot from agriculture.”
The project, which is funded through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership and OMAFRA runs until the end of January 2023.
Lemay and her team will submit a final report to OMAFRA at that time.
But other reports and summaries will come out as the project progresses, she said.
“We’ll be sending out surveys to see how well we achieved our objectives of building capacity,” she said. “We’ll be asking people if they’ve used our briefing notes and if they influenced some of their decisions.”