What is food security and how can we ensure that everyone in our communities has access to it? According to Burkhard Mausberg, Ontario’s Greenbelt is a key part of the solution. Mausberg is CEO of the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, a charitable organization that works to keep farmers successful, strengthen local economies and protect and grow natural features. He spoke recently at Sheridan on the Foundation’s efforts.
Mausberg’s presentation was part of a recent Creative Problem Solving (CPS) session held at the Trafalgar Road Campus, as part of the Community Ideas Factory Project. The project is a joint initiative of the Oakville Community Foundation (OCF) and Sheridan, who received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, a federal funding agency, to carry out a two-year project focused on addressing four key areas identified in the OCF’s 2015 Vital Signs Report: affordable housing, food (in)security, the equity gap, and wrap-around services.
Why is the Greenbelt key to food security?
As Mausberg explained, the Greenbelt encompasses two million acres of protected space, one million of which is farmland. It spans the Golden Horseshoe and extends all the way up to Tobermory. It was established by the Ontario Government in 2005 to conserve significant areas for conservation and farming. While food security is defined as reliable access to a sufficient supply of affordable, nutritious food, he asserts that it also includes “the ability to actually grow the plants, raise the animals and do the processing.”
And its role in the economy might surprise you. According to Mausberg, the Greenbelt supports over 160,000 full-time equivalent jobs, primarily in agriculture, and generates $2.8 billion per year in revenue. “Its economic value to Ontario is equal to that of the tar sands to Alberta.”
There are approximately 5,500 farms, mainly small and medium-sized, in the Greenbelt today, mostly located in Niagara and Halton regions, as well as the Holland Marsh north of Toronto.
In 2010, the Greenbelt Fund, also headed by Mausberg, was created to support the Foundation’s mission of enhancing and supporting agriculture in the Greenbelt and throughout Ontario. The Fund delivers support to farmers and local food leaders to ensure more Ontario food is served and distributed through our public institutions, retail, and foodservice markets including hospitals, schools, and long-term care facilities. The Fund’s goal is to create systemic change to permanently increase the amount of local food consumed in the province, through grants, education, policy, and networking initiatives.
“When you talk about Ontario food, you’re talking about maintaining jobs in your community, reducing food miles and carbon emissions, and frankly, you’re talking about taste,” says Mausberg. A peach grown in Niagara, for example, simply tastes better than one imported from thousands of miles away.
One of the challenges to maintaining Ontario’s food production is the increasing demand for land as more people flock to the region to live. Mausberg notes that close to 2.5 million people are expected to arrive in the Golden Horseshoe over the next 15 years. That’s why protecting the Greenbelt and supporting the farmers who live and work there is so important to food security. “The bottom line is that food security is a complex issue. We need the land to stay in production and for the farmers to be economically successful,” says Mausberg. Also needed is an agricultural infrastructure that includes seed suppliers, farm equipment vendors, and veterinarians, along with land use planning that protects agriculture. As Mausberg puts it, “they don’t make new land anymore.”
The Creative Problem Solving session, facilitated by Sheridan faculty and administrators, brought together individuals from a number of agencies in Halton Region to work together on developing workable solutions and project concepts to address food (in)security.