Is there a place for agriculture in an urbanizing area?

Although numerous conflicts can arise between agriculture and nonagricultural development, there are also many benefits to co-existence. These benefits exist on a number of levels.

There is an environmental benefit to having agricultural land use close to urban development. For example, over a full growing season, an average hectare of corn in Ontario removes 22 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air.6 The fencerows and woodlots maintained as part of farm operations act as wildlife corridors and habitats for many species. Without farmland, the linkages that species need to survive in urbanizing areas would not exist. Loss of birds and animals would have a significant negative effect on the quality of life in urban areas.

The trend in the GTA has been to replace traditional crops with specialty crops that require, and are required by, an urban market. Time-sensitive products such as herbs need to be grown close to their markets. Both producer and consumer benefit from "just-in-time" delivery. Having a productive, viable agricultural industry nearby allows urban residents to enjoy the benefits of a plentiful, nutritional food supply geared to urban tastes. Growth opens markets and stimulates demand for product. The farmers in the Central Ontario Zone have shown great flexibility in responding to these markets. For example, about 90% of the Asian vegetables produced in Ontario are produced in the Holland Marsh.

Pick-your-own businesses and agriculturally-related tourism can be very successful around urban areas. The customers are not so much consumers of product as they are consumers of experience. They want the opportunity to drive to the country and understand where food comes from and how it is produced. The role of the agricultural community as a part of the rural landscape is an important benefit to an urban region. It is a part of the broader open space system that provides a more tranquil environment as well as education about agriculture to urban residents.

Linkages between agriculture and urban living are growing. There is a growing trend in the restaurant business to feature local produce. Restaurant owners establish relationships with farmers that benefit both parties and allow consumers access to fresh local products.

Not only does the urban population benefit from the existence of a strong agricultural community, the agricultural community can also benefit from proximity to urban areas; access to services and research facilities in urban areas enhances farmers' ability to operate; access to large and sophisticated markets helps stabilize production; access to transportation services is critical to reaching markets; and access to services such as gas and hydro support operations such as greenhouses. What is needed is a way to balance conflicts to allow both groups to take advantage of the benefits.
6. Ontario Corn Producer's Association (OCPA) homepage-Corn & Climate Change