York Region has long recognized the importance of agriculture, with many of their high-level strategic plans and policy documents – the Region’s Official Plan, Strategic Plan, Vision 2051, and Economic Development Action Plan – all touching on their commitment to the sustainability and viability of the agri-food sector.
York Regional Council further strengthened this commitment late last year, with the approval of the Agriculture and Agri-Food Strategy. This collaborative strategy, developed alongside the York Region Agricultural Advisory Liaison Group and York Region Food Network, provides direction for the long-term growth of the agricultural and food production sector in York Region, including future policy development, initiatives and resource allocation decisions.
“With approximately one in nine jobs dependent on the agriculture system we are excited to work with York Region to implement the Agriculture & Agri-food Strategy,” said Carolyn Puterbough, Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Advisor, OMAFRA. “This strategy will not only increase the understanding of opportunities that can be created and supported to increase the region’s overall economic strength and sustainability in the sector, but supports the value chain that stretches from farm gates to consumers’ plates.”
With the recent implementation of the Agriculture and Agri-Business Specialist position with Meena Hassanali (pictured to the right), York Region is well positioned to action the strategic goals outlined within the strategy.
York Region currently has 712 farms on 142,585 acres. Local farm families are celebrated as an extremely important part of the region, with many having worked the land for 150 years or more. There are about 57,000 jobs in the region’s agri-food sector; 3,500 full-time equivalent jobs in primary agricultural production. The economic impact of the agri-food chain in York Region is already at $2.7 billion.
So to nourish this robust sector, the Region is working closely with municipal partners, the Agricultural Advisory Liaison Group, and with stakeholder groups to execute the strategy, including the York Federation of Agriculture, York Farm Fresh Association, the Holland Marsh Growers’ Association, and the Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Alliance.
A key focus now is building on these connections to explore new opportunities and collaborations.
The Economic Strategy group has begun running “Road Shows,” promoting the Strategy to municipalities, local councils, internal staff and departments, and various stakeholders. They hope to connect with partners on some of their goals and objectives — with the idea to share resources, not duplicate efforts that already exist.
They also are aiming to build connections and opportunities within the agri-food value chain. This process started at the end of September, when the Region and partners hosted a successful Agri-Food Networking Event in Vaughan that engaged the business community. The event educated local businesses on waste reduction solutions that would also achieve bottom line benefits. This forum was attended by 55 participants from the agri-food business community, including food processors, retailers, and other value chain stakeholders.
Some other short-term action items that have been implemented include: hosting succession planning workshops, an agricultural implementation workshop with OMAFRA, an asset mapping workshop, and supporting York Farm Fresh with promoting local farms and the development of their local farm fresh map.
An upcoming item on the horizon is the development of a communications strategy that will include a local food awareness campaign, and showcase some local farmers and businesses through case studies.
Ultimately, a strong thematic piece throughout the strategy is facilitating and fostering relationships between producers, processors and retailers, other local businesses, and stakeholder groups that will support local food production.
If you’re interested in collaborating or have any ideas, you’re encouraged to contact Meena Hassanali, Agriculture and Agri-Business Specialist, York Region: Meena.Hassanali@york.ca
You can view the full strategy here to see all the objectives and action items that stem from the five goals, which you can get a glimpse of below: