Is our food on the cusp of a great disruption?

The Region of Peel is currently undertaking a municipal comprehensive review which is the technical process for updating the Region’s official plan. The main purpose of the update is to accommodate the projected growth in population through the year 2051. The proposed changes include a settlement area boundary expansion that would allow housing and other developments to be built on what is now agricultural land, mostly in southern Caledon. The changes are progressing as if no other options are available and are marching swiftly to a provincially driven schedule. These are, however, profound changes that would irrevocably alter the landscape of vast swaths of Peel Region. This article explores the implications of these changes on the food security of the Region.

Caledon Farming

Access to sufficient quantities of nutritious reasonably priced food is perhaps the most important factor in maintaining peaceful and productive societies. For those of us living in southern Ontario the past 70 have been the goldilocks years for food, with plentiful quantity, tremendous variety, and relatively low cost.

Now, changes are occurring that threaten the foundations on which our food security is built. COVID –19 supply chain issues combined with the war in Ukraine are obvious threats that are shocking the patterns of food sourcing and food distribution, causing intermittent bare shelves, limiting choices, and raising costs that continue taking ever bigger bytes out of consumer paycheques.  

Yet climate change will likely be the biggest long-term disruptor. The current trends indicate the goal of keeping the increase in average global temperature to 1.5C is rapidly slipping through our fingers. Under the more likely 2-2.3C scenario, Canada will look and feel like a very different place within the time horizon considered within the Regional growth plan.

Sean Smukler, a professor at University of British Columbia in the faculty of land and food systems believes that food shortages resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic should help the general public realize the importance of building resilience into the agricultural system, preserving local food production and protecting the country’s food sovereignty.

The fact is, our traditional sources of food are becoming far less stable. Climate change will ensure they will continue to do so. At the same time, Peel Region is converting prime agricultural land to residential, commercial, and industrial uses more rapidly than ever before. The irony in the proposed settlement area boundary expansion, (SABE) should be obvious to all, calling for a phased approach to development that would allow “agriculture and agricultural activities to continue for as long as possible”. The interpretation? Significant agriculture within Peel Region will be all but eliminated by 2051 just as our food supply from traditional sources may have reached a critical stage.

We are living in rapidly changing times. The historical assumptions guiding our plans need to be challenged. While growth and affordable housing must remain priorities, we must also be realistic about the future of housing in the GTA. The aspiration of single-family home ownership, complete with picket fence and generous yard may no longer be a viable option for all. Urban sprawl type development is neither environmentally nor economically sustainable. Land is the most precious thing we have, arable land even more so.

Peel Regional Council needs to take a bold decision and freeze urban boundary expansion beyond its current limits. Planners and developers must be challenged to create higher density solutions that would accommodate population growth within existing boundaries while leaving room for greenspace and sufficient agricultural land which could supply locally grown food for residents in Peel and the GTA. Locally grown food is not a panacea. It should however, be a significant part of the food sourcing equation. Anything less is just not prudent.

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