Charlotte Frisby wants to live where the green grass grows: in Markham.
Seven generations of Frisbys have farmed the parcel of land on which she now lives, but she worries that legacy will end with her.
“My father and other loved ones were born and died on this land doing what they loved and (what) they took pride in … But so many future farmers are uprooting from their heritage and moving to other areas where it is more sustainable,” she said.
At the Town of Markham’s Public Information Meeting Feb. 16, Frisby and other local farmers argued that Markham’s future development plans could devalue their land. Town of Markham representatives hosted the meeting to discuss possible strategies to sustain the town’s growing population. York Region expects Markham’s population to increase by 120,000 people over the next 20 years.
One such strategy is the Foodbelt strategy. The strategy would protect 2,000 hectares of farmland in Markham from urban development. Farmers, such as Frisby, oppose the Foodbelt because urban developers assign the highest value to farmland.
Town of Markham Coun. Erin Shapero said in a phone interview that she proposed the Foodbelt with Coun. Valerie Burke in December. She planned to accommodate population growth while protecting farmlands from urban sprawl.
“I’ve seen the farmland here start to disappear,” she said. “We have to change (our commitment to urban sprawl) or we’re not going to have food to eat that’s grown in Canada.”
Ontario Landowners Association (OLA) director Merle Bowles attended the meeting to vocalize farmers’ concerns. He applauds the protection of farmland. But he said the proposal would leave cash-poor farmers without enough capital to sustain their operations.
“The public must compensate the farmer … rather than restricting him to a piece of land that will have diminished value and that no other farmer will buy from him,” Bowles said.
The OLA says that the value of the Foodbelt land would be $690,000 per acre less than developers would pay.
Farmers supported an alternative strategy to the Foodbelt. Although they disapprove of urban sprawl, most will settle for a balance of environmental protection and new development. A plan for 60 per cent of new construction to occur within existing developments would leave some farmland open to speculators and allow farmers to sustain their businesses.
Based on the opinions expressed at the meeting on Feb. 16, Markham councillors will choose a strategy that will become the town’s new Official Plan. That plan will decide whether farmers such as Charlotte Frisby can sustain her Markham farm or not.
“We keep going because our hearts are here,” Frisby said. “Each generation worked hard to provide for the next one and that is what we are trying to do.”
The Town of Markham will decide its Official Plan in March or April.