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CFFO: “Thumbs Up” for Recommendation on Agriculture Planning in New Report

The Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario has a long history of progressive thinking amongst farmers. In fact, we coined a phrase, “long-term thinking for today’s issues,” to describe our particular approach to agricultural policy. As such, it’s gratifying to see other groups in society produce research and advocacy material that mirrors the concern we share for providing a proper stewardship for farming.

The material in question comes from the Metcalf Foundation. The Foundation has just released five reports that it says represents “a new vision for how we think about, produce, access and consume food.” The reports are worth discussing because they attempt to capture a wide swath of material that is relevant to all citizens of the province, regardless of their role in the modern food system. You may or may not agree with all of the recommendations, but there is plenty of food for thought regarding key questions about the design of the province’s food system.

I’m still working my way through the material, but one suggestion in particular immediately caught my attention. It’s contained within a report entitled “Menu 2020: Ten Good Food Ideas for Ontario.” It talks about the need to formally plan for the future of farming and food. In fact, it advocates the creation of something called an Ontario Farm, Food and Health Act. In order to bridge the gap to a new approach, the report recommends learning from other local, sustainable food systems that are already travelling down this road.

According to the report, the Act in question should include zoning and taxation provisions to allow for on-farm processing and should support regional food clusters (including processing, storage, packing, and distribution) to increase access to healthy food. In addition, such an act needs to be complemented by a food-planning guide for Ontario planners and amendments to planning legislation - including the Planning Act, the Provincial Policy Statements and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe - to protect prime agricultural land.

This particular proposal resonates strongly with me. The CFFO has been saying for many years that the province needs a proactive plan for agriculture, complete with zoning and enabling legislation. If we want our agricultural sector to squeeze out all of its potential, we need a plan that undergirds the positive efforts of the multiplicity of individuals and groups involved in farming and food businesses. This recommendation from the Metcalf Foundation report deserves a “thumbs up” for getting it right.

As more and more groups start singing a common refrain about the need for a food policy, the ball will increasingly move into the realm of the provincial political parties. An election campaign will be launched during 2011 that will ask us to vote for custodians of our public infrastructure. Will any parties provide the leadership needed to make agriculture and food a formal legislative planning initiative? Let’s hope so.

By John Clement
General Manager
Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario

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