Green and Growing Local Food

Published in the North Grenville Times on March 18th, 2015

Last week I attended two interesting presentations regarding Lanark, Leeds and Grenville counties; the first on Monday evening dealt with the local food movement and the second on Tuesday morning concerned community economic development.

March 9th Sustainable North Grenville welcomed Matt Brearley, General Manager of the Two Rivers Food Hub, who spoke to a full house at The Branch Restaurant and Texas Grill. Jim Beveridge, his son Andrew and I were also there to talk and answer questions about Markets on Rideau, a re-development project in the Rideau-Sanders Triangle in Old Town Kemptville.

Matt explained the goal of the Food Hub, located at The Gallipeau Centre in Smiths Falls, is to help local farmers and local food entrepreneurs increase their production by acting as an aggregation and distribution point for both produce and protein. The aim is to make local food costs affordable for consumers while helping local small scale farmers to become sustainable. Two Rivers is gearing up slowly as funds become available; its commercial kitchen space opened for business just last week. Matt also told the attentive crowd of 30 to 40 that the Hub can also provide food packaging and labeling services, and will help get products to market.

The demand for locally grown and locally processed food, free of the “ingredients” that agri-business choses to use in maximizing yields and shelf-life, far outstrips supply. Farm gate sales and farmers’ market have reached the limit of their capacity to satisfy the growing market. This offers great opportunities for rural communities that are close to large urban centres like Ottawa.

The Markets on Rideau project involves the redevelopment of 13,000 square feet of vacant commercial building space and an adjoining asphalt parking lot at 200 Sanders Street in Old Town Kemptville. MoR_LandscapeIt aims to become a centre for local food related businesses in which to establish themselves and, through branding the area as a destination, reach a larger trading area. In addition to the renovations and landscaping, a comprehensive marketing strategy will be put in place to provide marketing support for the participating businesses. In response to a question about the relationship between the two projects, I said, “Think of Markets on Rideau as the retail expression of what the Two Rivers Food Hub is trying to accomplish”.

On the morning of March 10th, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs conducted a highly informative Community Economic Development 101 workshop at the Municipal Centre. In attendance were numerous elected officials, public servants, people working in the non-profit sector and members of the general public, all interested in discussing the challenges that rural communities face in fostering economic growth.

You would think that developing the agricultural sector in Lanark, Leeds and Grenville would be a high priority with this group, instead rising Hydro rates and the prospect of further amalgamation in the area dominated. In fact, according to my notes, it was over two hours before the word “agriculture” was mentioned. This is a shame.

We often here the phrase “growth pays for growth” bandied about but usually it’s in the context of housing developments. What if we could grow good and meaningful jobs by developing the local food sector? It might give new meaning to the catch-phrase and it might even be a more sustainable activity in the long run.

As their name suggests Sustainable North Grenville is concerned with issues that threaten the viability of our community. Their Sustainability Fair happens on Sunday April 26th, for details email: info@sustainablenorthgrenville.ca. For more information on the Two Rivers Food Hub, head to: www.tworiversfoodhub.com.

Should the Municipality develop an Affordable Housing Strategy?

HFH-STL-SJR2Photo: Al Brown, owner of Al’s Used Furniture, was the special guest auctioneer for the Share the Love Art Auction. Al is synonymous with charity auctions in North Grenville and across Eastern Ontario

North Grenville is currently revising its Official Plan and while the existing Plan contains a section on Housing Policies that uses words like “appropriate”, “sufficient” and “adequate”, it doesn’t really identify a need for affordable housing in the Municipality. Do we need to conduct a needs analysis and strategy for addressing affordability housing deficiencies in our community? I think so.

Rural homelessness looks different – you don’t see it on the street but it exists. It’s hard to believe but a large number of rural families in North Grenville live below the poverty line. Whether they’re a long-term “guest” or a couch-surfer, the widow on a fixed income and the single guy between jobs are both suffering from either inadequate or insecure housing. The current Official Plan does not identify those in our community that are most vulnerable to the lack of affordable housing – youth, single parents, the elderly and low income families.

One family in Leeds and Grenville is over $1,000 closer to owning their own home through a hand up by the Share the Love Art Auction held last Thursday. The fundraiser was the culmination of a month-long exhibition of donated artwork mounted in the Geronimo Coffee House in Old Town Kemptville and flew under the Habitat for Humanity 1,000 Islands’ banner. During the month of February, the organizers asked visitors to view the art and write down their thoughts on rural poverty, insecure housing and what it means for a family to have a secure home. The comments, from people of all ages, were heart-felt and affecting.

HFH-STL-SJR1Photo: Bits of paper, posted by from the viewing public between the artwork, reflected a wide range of thoughts about insecure housing and its impact on both the individual and the community

Leigh Bursey, recently re-elected for a second term as a municipal councillor in Brockville, was the special guest speaker on Thursday night. Leigh recently wrote a book on housing and homelessness advocacy called “More Than a Number”. He reminded the audience that by providing affordable housing, the cycle of poverty from one generation to the next is broken; that having a mix of housing stock strengthens communities, reduces public costs and improves the economy.

Secure and affordable housing are issues of primary importance for a growing rural population. The new housing stock being built in North Grenville may satisfy a certain market but does it satisfy the needs of the existing population in terms of affordability? Will the new planned developments provide a mix of housing; homes and rental units that will fit the budgets of moderate and low-income families?

Single income families; the under-employed, seniors on fixed incomes and youth all strain to spend less than 30% of their gross income on adequate housing. That’s the definition of affordable home ownership or affordable rental housing in Ontario – spending less than 30% of your gross annual household income on housing. For a household earning $35,000 a year that means spending $ 875 a month in rent or mortgage payments (before utilities). As a community are we doing enough to create the conditions that will stimulate more affordable housing coming on-stream?

A thousand dollars is a very small step towards an affordable housing solution for a single deserving family. Here’s hoping that events like Share the Love will help raise awareness of the need for more of a housing mix in new developments and that will, in turn, help create the local political will to do something to make that happen. Commenting on the funds raised Heather Sansom, head of the organising committee, said “We have had a much bigger impact in raising awareness.  Awareness has ripple effects that are hard to measure, but sometimes are more meaningful.”

I believe it’s time the Municipality develops a realistic and actionable Affordable Housing Strategy. You can play a part in the process by participating in the Official Plan public consultation scheduled for March 18th at the Municipal Centre.