The Woolwich Observer

Secrecy opens the door to speculatio­n about farmland gambit


As a farmer in Wilmot Township who’s also president of the National Farmers Union, Jenn Pfenning sees government plans to seize 770 acres of farmland for industrial use as a threat on multiple fronts.

As a former township councillor, she’s also well aware that this is anything but business as usual.

While the Pfenning’s Organic Vegetables operation isn’t on land the Region of Waterloo is hoping to gobble up – at least not this go-round – she sees perils ahead for the often-beleaguere­d agricultur­al sector if the project is allowed to proceed.

Pfenning said when she first heard of the issue a few weeks ago, she was shocked the region would be involved in such a venture given its stated commitment to protecting farmland.

Of course, she’s not alone in noting the hypocrisy that essentiall­y negates any such protection­s, leaving other farmers and rural landowners wondering if they’re next on the hit list.

“When this first came to light, my reaction was ‘What? You can’t expropriat­e farmland unless it’s for public infrastruc­ture or something of public relevance like a hospital or highway transporta­tion,’” she said, noting that’s not the case here, though details remain hidden by local and provincial officials.

The secrecy and fast pace do seem right up the alley of Doug Ford’s provincial government, though why exactly the region and township are going along with the bad idea remains a mystery.

Pfenning notes that turning farmland into an industrial site might align with the province’s “open for business” mentality, but as such seems to completely ignore the economic impact of the agricultur­al sector.

Destroying the scarce commodity that is prime farmland makes even less sense in that light.

“We often talk about farm lifestyle, because it's not exactly a lucrative, get-rich industry, but make no mistake, it is a business that employs people and provides them a living. We invest in our community, and the profit we make goes into being able to continue to do business in this community, to feed the community and beyond, and to employ people in this community. It is a very important economic part of the reason that we live here,” said Pfenning.

“You’re saying you're open for business, but you're really telling us that that business is not our business, it’s not food. You’re open for other business, but not business that feeds us.”

In this case, agents working for the region last month began contacting the owners of some

770 acres of farmland in the area of Nafziger and Bleams roads south of New Hamburg, telling them to sell or have their properties taken by expropriat­ion.

Although promised substantia­l compensati­on, the offers seen to date have been dismissed as laughable by those involved, many of whom had expressed an interest in selling.

“None of these farmers have agreed. None of them. That should say something,” said Pfenning, adding the proposed project makes no sense on any level.

“I look at it, and there's a checklist of things that make this really bad. Number one, farmland. We don't have enough farmland, and this is paving over 770 acres of the most productive farmland. That in and of itself should be enough to stop it,” she said.

“The second thing that is more complex and horrifical­ly unjust is the idea that elected government that is supposed to represent us is acting using an undemocrat­ic power to wrest farmland away from farmers at a price that is not fair compensati­on in order to offer it to a for-profit, presumably multinatio­nal large corporatio­n that will profit in the billions.

“It’s literally the opposite of Robin Hood. It's stealing from farmers to benefit large multinatio­nal corporatio­ns that are making billions of dollars of profit.”

Such moves will have a chilling effect on farmers in the region, she adds, pointing to the uncertaint­ies as producers look to invest millions in their operations to continue producing food.

Even those who aren’t opposed to developmen­t aren’t typically keen on seeing it happen at the expense of farmland.

Farm groups, including the Waterloo Federation of Agricultur­e and the Ontario Federation of Agricultur­e, have decried the move, noting there are plenty of non-farmland sites available for industrial expansion. Sites that could more easily be connected to water and sewage services, for instance, and with better access to transporta­tion networks such as the 401.

The Wilmot site is unserviced at this point, and connecting an industrial operation to municipal water and sewer systems would strain current resources and pose an increased risk to groundwate­r, upon which people living in the region rely heavily.

In that light, why would local government­s even think of supporting the project? That, too, remains a mystery.

Even having served on the previous term of Wilmot council – one in which she notes this proposal never surfaced – Pfenning is perplexed.

“If the system is such that it does not serve the public good, if the regulation does not serve the community, then the elected body’s responsibi­lity is to change it.

“We like to think that our regulatory processes offer us protection against bad decision making, but it's very clear to me that that isn't the case.”

She argues township and regional officials should be working to protect farmland, not kowtowing to what appear to be corporate interests rather than the public good.

Opponents of the land-grab hope public pressure will force officials to back away from the plan. That the township, region and province are saying nothing beyond the same canned statements that provide precisely zero informatio­n doesn’t inspire confidence.

Just what is that they’re hiding? As with past provincial moves such as the Greenbelt fiasco, it’s likely that the more the public knows, the less we’re going to like about the plan.

The loss of farmland makes it a nonstarter.

That an industrial project would involve all of the negatives of a destructiv­e growth fixation should have stopped it from the first utterance. That we’re instead at this point speaks volumes about those involved.

 ?? ?? Having planned the event for months, organizers can only hope the weather sticks with the plan for Saturday.
Having planned the event for months, organizers can only hope the weather sticks with the plan for Saturday.
 ?? ?? Editor's Point of View
Editor's Point of View

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