Table discussion interpreted by Christopher Kelly-Bisson.

Priority: Establish rural land use policies and programs that give local farmers and rural residents greater say in planning and infrastructure decisions and tools to resist large-scale land acquisition by developers, agribusiness, and financial investment firms disconnected from rural and family farm communities.

Ottawa’s new Official Plan can cultivate resilient rural and family farm communities. Resilient rural communities benefit the whole city by providing quality local food and fulfilling critical ecosystem services such as soil carbon capture and sequestration, wetland and woodlot stewardship, and biodiversity conservation. Rural resilience and sustainable development is undermined, however, by unchecked urban expansion, irresponsible land speculation, weak public services and infrastructure, and poorly developed markets for local food production and distribution. Rural communities are also facing a farmland succession crisis and an agricultural debt crisis. These multiple crises have prompted the consolidation of ownership of agricultural land and reorientation of agricultural enterprises by multinational financial and agribusiness corporations typically focused on external and single commodity or non-food related markets. As a result, the viability of rural communities and family farms is threatened, along with urban food security.

Policy actions:

  • Honour Indigenous sovereignty by recognizing that we live on land that was never given to us by the Algonquin people. This means exploring ways to recognize the Indigenous territorial sovereignty of the authorities recognized as legitimate to the Algonquin community in land use decision-making through implementation of the Official Plan. Sites considered sacred to or that contain artefacts of the Algonquin community must be protected from development in ways that are meaningful to the Algonquin community.
  • Hold the Line(s) on urban expansion that threatens sensitive ecosystems, scare farmland and food security. Ottawa’s new Official Plan must not move the urban boundary from where it is today. Rural villages have also experienced encroachment onto valuable farmland and should therefore also be contained by their own urban boundary.
  • Prepare for climate-positive agriculture by supporting farmer-to-farmer and community-based networking and communication on knowledge and best practices for extreme weather preparedness, adaptation to new heat and precipitation patterns and ways to transition farms to better agroecological practices. Farmers are the best people to teach other farmers how to constantly improve environmental stewardship and adapt to a changing climate and economy.
  • Compensate farmers and other local landholders for ecosystem services critical to a just transition to a low carbon economy. Ambitious climate action is imperative, and rural areas offer many nature-based solutions. Well known agroecological practices such as conservation tillage, cover cropping, and agro-forestry can capture and sequester carbon in soil and prevent GHG emissions from escaping into the atmosphere. Farmers have also proven to be excellent environmental stewards when supported for the ecosystem services they provide. Compensation, which could take the form of tax breaks, income supplements, or preferential access to cost saving programs such as green housing retrofits, would recognize these contributions to environmental stewardship. To avoid abuse, compensation should be tied to proof of local residency and adoption of beneficial agroecological practices.
  • Develop a municipal farmland succession strategy. Currently, only 8% of family farms have a plan for who will own and manage their farms when they are no longer farming. The average farmer age is higher than other self-run businesses (55 years), with fewer and fewer farm-raised youth interested in a career in food production. To avoid the approaching demographic crisis in agriculture, there needs to be a program dedicated to helping farmers establish succession plans, bank land in a not-for-profit manner to facilitate intergenerational transfer, and help new farmers (especially young people and newcomers) access to farmland. Planning solutions may also includes policies to enable small-scale farmers and market gardeners affordably access smaller parcels of farmland for production, and permit land use exemptions on agricultural lands for the construction of buildings on farm properties to accommodate the needs of new, small-scale farms. Farmland succession would also benefit from policies that support alternative forms of land tenure that work for small-scale family farms (land trusts, co-operatives, etc.).
  • Tackle the diversion of land out of food production by monitoring and restricting speculative farmland investments (profit-making from land ownership rather than food production). Steps include requiring local-residency or occupancy, limiting the ability to sell development rights independently of agricultural land uses, and capping how much land an individual, family, company, or conglomerate of companies can own. These perverse forms of land speculation subvert agriculture and undermine local food production.
  • Address the infrastructure-democracy deficit. The capacity for rural communities and family farms to feed cities and steward the environment is challenged when they are not properly engaged in the design of services and infrastructure based in or affecting rural communities. For example, rural residents that object to the expansion of landfills in rural areas are often framed as NIMBYs rather than solving the problem with a “not in anybody’s backyard” solution.
  • Twin rural communities and urban neighbourhoods. The interests of rural communities are often represented as at odds with those of city residents. This perception is misleading and actually reflects a gap in the development of mutually beneficial relationships between rural communities and urban neighbourhoods. The City of Ottawa could bridge the divide the way municipalities twin with cities around the world, to promote cooperation and understanding. For example, Orléans could be paired with a rural community like Sarsfield or Navan through direct marking programs and events engaging people in the co-construction of local foodsheds (from seed to table).

Immediate steps:

  1. Protect Ottawa’s precious farmland from sprawl by putting a firm hold on the urban boundary and establishing clear village boundaries.
  2. A climate adaptation and emergency fund is also critical as it can start the process of negotiating ways to compensate farmers for ecosystem services and shore up efforts to support farmland succession and farmland banking.
  3. Start both steps with a review of rural consultation and engagement practices, to identify specific gaps and deficiencies in representation, consent and access to municipal services.

Linkages with other priorities: Rural resilience is vital to meeting GHG emissions targets, reducing the worst effects of climate change affecting both rural and urban areas and conserving agricultural and wild biodiversity (see Nature posts). It can also benefit directly from advances in the development of high performance buildings, better urban waste management and sustainable solutions to rural-urban transportation challenges (see Transportation and Building posts).