Posts Tagged ‘Sustain Ontario’

Let’s start planning for food

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Photo: Flickr tcd123usa

The way governments plan — or don’t – for food affects everything fromfarming and economic development to health and the environment.

 The importance of planning for food is one of the key themes to emerge from Policies from the Field, a series of working papers released last week by local food advocacy group Sustain Ontario. The papers discuss ways that governments can use policy to support a healthier, more sustainable food system. An earlier Earthward post looked at the new papers on food policy councils, local food procurement, and planning among different government sectors.  In this post, I’ll cover the fourth paper in the series, which focuses on the role of land use planning in making local food more accessible.

What’s land use planning?

Land use planning refers to the way land and resources are managed. It sounds pretty abstract but it has a big effect on our communities. For example, it shapes things like neighbourhood design; the location of homes, businesses, roads and public transportation; how open spaces can be used; and to what extent farm land is protected.

So what’s in the Sustain Ontario paper on land use?

Called Increasing Land Access to Local Food, the paper was put together by Burgundy Dunn from the Canadian Environmental Law Association. It looks at land use planning strategies in support of a healthier food system that’s structured to:

  • provide space and infrastructure for local food activities such as farming, processing, distribution and retailing
  • be economically sustainable for small- and medium-sized farmers and local food businesses
  • make healthy food available to all communities, including low-income and remote communities, and
  • operate in environmentally sustainable ways.

The paper provides examples of what other cities in North America have done to plan more effectively for healthy food.

What changes does the paper recommend?

  1. Plan for food. Unlike issues such as health, water and housing, only food has been sidelined as a planning issue, seen as a private sector activity rather than an essential community need. This has to change, the paper argues. Besides preserving farm land, local food production and infrastructure should be integrated into provincial and municipal policy, plans and legislation. More mixed use zoning should be encouraged to ensure that food sources like supermarkets, farmers’ markets, community gardens and restaurants are integrated into or near residential areas. Food and transit planning should also be integrated to improve food access.
  2. Increase the availability of healthy food in all neighbourhoods. Change policies and regulations to encourage retail food sources – farmers’ markets, small processing facilities, distribution centres for regionally produced foods. Municipal governments could recognize farm stands and markets, and urban agriculture as desirable land uses by providing space and transit and offering incentives for infrastructure.
  3. Create more opportunities for urban and peri-urban (land that adjoins urban land) farming. Farming should be formally recognized as an appropriate use of urban land. Governments should create and protect urban farm lands, offer up lands they own for urban farming and support urban agriculture as an economic venture.

Where can I find out about land use in Ottawa?

As with many things in Canada, jurisdiction is split among different levels of government. For example, as part of the National Capital Region, certain spaces in Ottawa come under federal/National Capital Commission jurisdiction.

The Ontario government Planning Act provides a land use planning system that’s intended to promote sustainable economic development and a healthy natural environment throughout the province. Within that framework, municipalities have leeway to tailor their decisions to local needs.

The City of Ottawa Official Plan outlines broad land use policies, as well as land use designations that specify what is or isn’t permitted in a given area. The City has designations for urban, expanding urban, rural, Greenbelt, open space and other land types, which are implemented through detailed zoning by-laws.

Is Ottawa doing any of the things Sustain Ontario paper suggests?

The City of Ottawa helps to support the work of Just Food which covers a variety of local food initiatives, including new farmer training, community gardens and development of a food hub. The city will also be represented on the soon-to-be-launched Ottawa Food Policy Council. However, at this point, the Official Plan does not explicitly plan for food.

What changes to Ottawa land use policies would you like to see to improve access to local food?

Smart ideas for Ontario food policy

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

They may not be sexy, but smart, well-crafted food policies, rules and programs play a big part in building a more sustainable food system.

On February 11 and 12, Sustain Ontario unveiled Policies from the Field, a series of working papers on policies to boost healthy eating and local food production. Sustain Ontario is an alliance of provincial stakeholders – including Ottawa’s Just Food — that advocates for healthy, sustainable food and farming.

The first four papers in the series consider national and international food policies that Ontario’s municipal and provincial governments could adopt in areas such as:

  1. food policy councils
  2. local food procurement
  3. inter-sectoral food agendas, and
  4. land planning to improve local food access

A paper about food hubs will come out February 19, 2013.

In this post, I’ll cover the highlights from the first three papers. Next week, I’ll look at the reports on land use planning and food hubs. Sustain Ontario has posted Policies from the Field online.

Ontario: The Case for a Provincial Food Policy Council

Authored by U.S. community food activist and writer Mark Winne, this paper argues that there’s a lack of common focus to food policy at the provincial and state government levels in North America. While for-profit and non-profit groups have stepped into the void, they may lack the capacity or clout to deal with challenges such as food insecurity, rising obesity rates, and the decline in family farms.  Food policy councils can help bridge the gap by bringing citizens, stakeholders and governments together to actively plan and manage food systems. Examples of successful food policy planning include Toronto and Edmonton at the city level and Nova Scotia, Connecticut, Michigan and New Mexico at the provincial/state level. Given the uncertain future of global food, Winne concludes that cities, provinces and countries that don’t actively shape their own food systems will be at the mercy of forces they can’t control.

As far as Ottawa is concerned, we will soon have our own food policy council.  Slated for launch in the near future, the council will include representatives from the City of Ottawa, citizens and other food system stakeholders.

Possibilities for Local Food Procurement in Ontario

Procurement policy is key to a thriving local food system. As the U.K., Italy and the U.S. have learned, when governments and publicly-funded organizations (e.g., school boards, hospitals, universities) start sourcing local food, it ramps up supply, along with the infrastructure to process and distribute it.  But there’s a stumbling block. Ontario’s ability to procure local food is restricted by a slew of trade agreements – NAFTA, the agreements Canada is negotiating with the European Union (CETA) and Pacific nations (TPP), and others. These agreements prohibit the countries involved from choosing suppliers based on geographic location.  As a result, limiting bids on a food contract to local suppliers would be seen as discriminatory. That said, there may be some wiggle room, according to the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA).  For example, following the lead of several EU nations, Ontario could craft requests for proposal with “technical specifications” to favour foods based on seasonality, freshness or local organic certification.  It might also be possible to set policies that are exempt from trade agreements altogether, such as measures that would apply to contracts below a certain dollar value or that would support non-profit organizations.

Health in All Policies

This paper from food policy analyst Wayne Roberts describes a strategy called Health in All Policies (HiAP) that’s endorsed by the World Health Organization and has been adopted in Finland, the EU and South Australia. In a nutshell, HiAP is an inter-sectoral approach to health issues that connects them to all government agencies instead of just health departments. Roberts suggests that Ontario could implement a HiAP approach to food issues instead of scattering responsibility for them among different bureaucracies such as employment, the environment, health, agriculture and fisheries. This approach would allow people from the various food sectors to understand how interconnected their issues are and what they could achieve by collaborating on an integrated agenda.

What municipal or provincial policy would you change to make local food more widely accessible?