Key Issues: Farmland / food, water, natural heritage, noise, truck traffic
Food & Water First is the legacy of the Stop the Mega Quarry campaign that began in Dufferin County, northwest of Toronto, in 2006. The Highland Companies – a front company for a $27-billion Boston hedge fund – bought 6,500-acres of Class 1 farmland and stated it wanted to become the largest potato producer in Ontario. But in 2011, it filed an application for the largest quarry in Canadian history on the best soil in the province and at the headwaters of five river systems. The Mega Quarry would have spanned 2,300-acres and plunged 200-feet below the water table. It could have destroyed rare food-producing land and impacted water resources for up to one million people downstream.
Farmers, chefs, First Nations, city-dwellers, environmentalists and artists formed a remarkable alliance to Stop the Mega Quarry and pressure the Ontario government to revise outdated land-use policies. Not only was an unprecedented Environmental Assessment ordered for the Highland application, but a review of the Aggregate Resources Act was also held. Government recommendations from that review are still being studied.
The Stop the Mega Quarry movement held culinary celebrations to raise awareness about the vital farmland and water resources at risk. In October 2011, the North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Taskforce partnered with the Chefs Congress of Canada to organize Foodstock. It was held on a large potato farm adjacent to the proposed Mega Quarry site. 100 chefs prepared dishes made from local ingredients; Canadian musicians performed live in the fields. 28,000 people, ten times the population of Melancthon, attended Foodstock. One year later, the David Suzuki Foundation partnered with the Chefs Congress for the sequel to Foodstock in Toronto. Soupstock featured 200 chefs, live musical performances and attracted 40,000 people.
In November 2012, exactly one month after Soupstock, Highland withdrew its mega quarry application. Then, in July 2013, a Canadian investment firm, Bonnefield Financial, purchased all 6,500-acres from Highland. It has leased the land to local farmers ensuring the fields remain in food production.
However, the campaign for farmland and water protection continues. The Mega Quarry fight exposed many flaws in current land-use policies. Ontario’s prime farmland and source water regions remain vulnerable to sprawl and aggregate operations even though they’re critical to our food security and Ontario’s $34-billion agri-food sector, the largest in Canada. We believe our prime farmland and water should be protected in perpetuity. We believe it’s time we put Food & Water First.