Hamilton farmers hope boundary expansion debate brings more support for local food
The city of Hamilton won't expand its urban boundary, but some farmers worry the debate will arise again soon
Some Hamilton-area farmers say they're relieved the city won't expand its urban boundary to eat up valuable Ontario farmland, but they can't shake the feeling they'll have to go through this all again next year.
Drew Spoelstra, a Binbrook, Ont., farmer and vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, says he's glad Hamilton city council voted Friday not to expand the urban boundary by 1,310 hectares. That expansion would have allowed developers to build on so-called "whitebelt" land, which is land between the existing urban boundary and the greenbelt.
But that vote included a pledge to report annually on residential development activity — namely, what sort of development is happening and whether it's enough to accommodate population growth. Spoelstra worries the province could also swoop in and force the expansion. He also says Friday's vote brings the danger of having to debate this all again next year.
"I certainly don't want to have to go through this process every year," he said.
Michelle Inksetter of Carluke Orchards in Ancaster agrees.
"We have really nice farmland here and it's important to preserve it," she said. But with the vote, "it's just going to be the same battle every year."
The proposed boundary expansion drew the city's largest public feedback in years.
More than 700 people wrote letters and delegated to councillors this month, most against the expansion. The issue also birthed two public campaigns: the citizen-led Stop Sprawl effort, and Hamilton Needs Housing, which was funded by a handful of local developers.
Those who wanted the expansion said Hamilton needs a variety of housing options for the 110,300 more households expected over 30 years. Opponents said it would hurt the environment and take away precious farmland.
Brenda Johnson, Ward 11 (Glanbrook) councillor, said everyone who stepped forward to talk about farmland needs to follow through by shopping at farmers' markets and buying local produce. Spoelstra agrees with that.
"When I spoke to council on Nov. 9, I said I've never heard so many people in Hamilton talking about farming," he said.
Ben Loewith has a family dairy farm in Lynden. The city is considering an application right now to build a facility there to distribute Loewith dairy products locally.
"I very much agree with her sentiment that we should be supporting local farmers, but I would extend that to say it's not just farmers we should be supporting," Loewith said. "It's local grocery stores, local hardware stores, all of these smaller local businesses."
Loewith said people support farmland, but tend to be less tolerant of the realities, such as slow-moving tractors on the road or the smell of manure. That's one reason he opposed the boundary expansion.
"Whenever you have agriculture and an urban centre together, there are inevitably going to be conflicts," he said. "While people say they support agriculture, they tend to associate it with beautiful flowers and wheat waving in the wind, not dragging mud out onto the roads or getting caught behind a large piece of tillage equipment."
"If you get a subdivision, and on the other side of the road, you have fields, then you're really getting into it."
Inksetter said in addition to farmers' markets, people should request local produce at grocery stores.
"More demand there will create more options for people to buy local food, which will encourage more food security," she said.
Erica Conrad, secretary of the Ottawa Street Farmers' Market board, invites everyone interested in the boundary expansion to shop at the market. She'd also like to see more public education so people know where to find local produce at stores.
The Ottawa Street market happens Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., she said. It has three farmers participating through the winter.
"We do have a fairly large customer base in the Crown Point and Hamilton east end community," she said. "But we always love to see more people come out and check out the market."