How can we make the process easier for farmers to get the necessary stamp of approval for on-farm developments?
The September 26th event, “Streamlining the processes for agricultural applications to municipalities and Conservation Authorities (CAs)”, was well attended by farmers, representatives from a range of municipal departments, CA representatives, and staff from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). The result was productive information sharing among diverse stakeholders about challenges and opportunities as well as ways to simplify and otherwise improve processes.
Hugh Fraser, from OMAFRA, highlighted many of the challenges of near-urban agriculture, from higher costs of land, to longer timeframes for municipal approvals, to decreased certainty against encroachment. This last issue is especially pertinent to the work we do at the Greenbelt Foundation given that farmers have long-identified certainty against encroachment as a major benefit of Greenbelt legislation.
Lisa Hausz of Ajax, and Kelly Maloney and Rob Messervey from Kawartha Lakes presented two successful approaches to streamlining agricultural applications. Ajax’s Priority Path program streamlines the municipal process to support businesses through the development application process, while Kawartha Conservation undertook extensive outreach with agricultural groups prior to updating their policies, resulting in a guide to permitting which was relevant and useful to users
Hubert Schillings--owner of White Feather Farm in Durham--and Pat McArthur--owner of Heatherlea Farms in Peel--presented the client perspective. Both Schillings and McArthur emphasized that demand for local food is not simply a fad, the importance of site-visits by municipal staff, and the need for regulations which can apply to local situations.
Town of Lincoln Mayor Bill Hodgson outlined the the town's initiatives to incorporate agriculture into plans and policies. Lincoln has embedded the Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Alliance’s Action Plan into their Official Plan and engaged in outreach with the agricultural community. Mayor Hodgson emphasized the need for a tool that clearly shows the steps for clients to achieve approval through the agricultural assessment process.
Discussion among participants emphasized the need for better understanding and communication between farmers and municipal and CA staff. For municipalities, solutions to the challenges of the agricultural application process included pre-consultations, enhanced outreach to agricultural groups, and better collaboration between municipal business development and planning departments.
This workshop is one way the Greenbelt Foundation works towards supporting agriculture in the Greenbelt. It is one of a series of workshops hosted in collaboration with the Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Alliance. Additional workshops on topics relevant to agriculture in the Greenbelt and the Golden Horseshoe will be offered periodically in 2015.
To access the presentations from the event, see www.foodandfarming.ca.