The Dirt on the Year of Soil
In a few months, Ontario’s rich agricultural soil will start feeding us once again. The fields and orchards will emerge from another winter, ready to produce a bounty of fresh local vegetables, grains and fruit.
The 2015 growing and harvest seasons will be especially significant because they will take place during the International Year of Soils. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has declared that over the next 12 months every country should be paying more attention to the soil that grows our food, filters our water, stores vast amounts of carbon and keeps us alive. The Year of Soils is an opportunity for us to stop treating this vital resource like dirt.
We can start here in Ontario, home to the best soil and climate conditions in Canada. This vast country is comprised of just 0.5 percent of Class 1 soil, the rarest in the world. Just over half of Canada’s Class 1 farmland is found in Ontario. Lucky us. Yet, we’ve destroyed nearly 20 percent of it. We continue to pave it over for urban sprawl or mine it for aggregate, ignoring the fact that once this soil is gone, it’s gone forever.
Soils don’t have a voice and few people speak out for them
“Soils don’t have a voice and few people speak out for them,” says Jose Graziano da Silva, Director General of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Fortunately, an Ontario citizens’ movement – Food & Water First — is speaking out for our best soils and urging others to join the chorus. The Food & Water First campaign is the legacy of the Stop the Mega Quarry movement, which defeated a massive proposed quarry on 2,300-acres of Class 1 soil in Dufferin County, 90 minutes northwest of Toronto. The goal of Food & Water First is to change Ontario’s land-use policies and legislation so that Class 1 farmland is protected in perpetuity for food production. Good things grow in Ontario, but not if the land continues to vanish.
Other jurisdictions are preserving their agricultural soils. Pennsylvania – our Great Lake neighbour and agri-food competitor – has the largest farmland preservation program in the U-S. Since 1988 it has protected more than 500,000-acres of prime farmland for its $68-billion agri-food sector. China, the most populated country on the planet, recently announced its 14 largest cities must ban urban sprawl in order to protect prime farmland. In Ontario, except for the Greenbelt, there is no protection for the farmland that supports our $34-billion agri-food sector, the largest in the country. During last spring’s election campaign, the Liberals promised a Farms Forever program, similar to the Pennsylvania model. Launching Farms Forever in 2015 would be timely and welcome.
Food & Water First is speaking up for Ontario’s rich farmland in the Year of Soils by seeking a 10-year moratorium on new rezoning applications impacting Class 1 farmland. Let’s hit the pause button on non-farming development that’s devouring our best agricultural soils. Let’s take the time to review existing land-use policies to see if they’re properly addressing the many threats to productive farmland – urban sprawl, population growth, climate change. Food & Water First and its many partner organizations are giving voice to the soils in 2015. Will you?