Ontario farmers are no strangers to pivoting and adapting in times of change. Resilient farming not only encompasses planting new crops or raising different livestock, but it can also mean incorporating new uses on farms, some that are not related to agriculture at all
Pam Duesling, a local Norfolk County farmer, has just completed her PhD at the University of Guelph, where she researched balancing on-farm diversification with agricultural land preservation in Ontario. Pam is no stranger to land use development as she has been a practicing Professional Planner for over twenty years, working in Haldimand County, Norfolk County, and is currently the General Manger of Development Services at the County of Brant.
According to Duesling’s research, less than 5% of Ontario’s land base consists of prime agricultural lands (class 1-3 soils); yet Ontario has lost 319 acres of farmland a day over the last five years. While the numbers of small and medium-sized farms are dwindling, larger farms are increasing. Many small family farmers are diversifying their land uses and revenue streams to make their agricultural operations viable. It is simply not enough to preserve only farmland; society must also preserve the family farmer.
The Provincial Policy Statement and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)Guidelines on Permitted Uses in Ontario’s Prime Agricultural Areas introduced on-farm diversified uses which allow farmers to balance farmland preservation while developing other uses on the farm.
Pam researched on-farm diversified uses along with her colleagues (Dr. Caldwell – University of Guelph Professor, and Emily Sousa – Ontario Federation of Agriculture Policy Analyst) with support from OMAFRA, various farm organizations, rural municipal planning departments, and over 150 farmers diversifying their operations across Ontario. The research uncovers best practices for on-farm diversified uses that the planning profession can implement in policy and process to assist family farmers in their entrepreneurial endeavors.
The research presents ideas and suggestions for municipalities and family farmers to design responsible on-farm diversified uses that not only protect agricultural land and contribute to local economic development, but also reduce conflicts with neighbouring property owners. Dr. Duesling’s research concludes that the OMAFRA Guidelines are a helpful baseline for as-of-right provisions within municipal zoning by-laws, and that approval processes should be affordable, time efficient, and easy for farmers to interpret. The research also created a tool to ensure that proposed on-farm diversified uses are developed at a size and scale that promote agriculture as the primary use on the farm.
On-farm diversification can be anything and everything and is prevalent in Norfolk County in the form of such things as tasting rooms for wineries, distilleries, or breweries; overnight accommodations; retail and agri-tourism.
One example of on-farm diversification in Norfolk County is the Barntique. Located at 1233 Turkey Point Road near Simcoe, Jennifer Hewitson opened the Barntique in 2019. It has since become a destination for both locals and tourists. Hewitson, an artisan herself, was operating her home business, ‘The Rustic Feather’, making signs and wood décor, when one day, while sitting outside on her 155-acre farm said to her husband, “I think we should convert the old barn into an artisian boutique”. Jen’s husband Tim (a general contractor) laughed at her and replied, “there’s no way – it’s full of pigeons”. The Hewitsons have since renovated the barn into a retail destination featuring 100 Canadian artists seasonally and host over 95,000 visitors a year. “I am most proud that my husband and I have built something our children can be proud of,” said Hewitson. This year, the Barntique will celebrate its fifth season and will incorporate a new patio where food will be served from the farm’s garden. The Barntique will not only be a shopping destination, but also a place where visitors can sit, enjoy a bite to eat, a glass of wine or beer, and enjoy the countryside!
The Barntique is an on-farm diversified use that was possible with no municipal re-zoning applications as Norfolk County continues to support local farmers and continue growing local businesses.
Readers interested in learning more about on-farm diversification can contact Dr. Pam Duesling at email@example.com or to read the complete research report at http://www.waynecaldwell.ca/projects/omafra-permitted-uses-2/.