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Farmers feed cities

All around the city of Toronto, farms are failing and their buildings are being allowed to decay. It's a sad sight, especially in a time when we are told "locavore" and "100-mile" diets are the most healthy and environmentally sound. Within 100 miles of the GTA, farmland is shrinking and being overtaken by developments of monster houses, all chewing up fertile land and spitting out single-family, low-density subdivisions.

Areas such as the Greenbelt and the Oak Ridges Moraine, and Irish Block Road in Owen Sound are supposedly protected from development, but this is not always the case. Developers have bought land and leased it back to farmers, banking owhose Facebook page www.facebookcom, Save Frank & Marjorie Meyers Farm has more than 58,000 followers, whose 200+ acre farm the Canadian government wants to appropriate: his family has farmed this land since the eighteenth century and he sees no reason why they should move.

Driving from Toronto, north-west to Owen Sound, for example, we pass dozens of abandoned farm houses: windows boarded up, walls buckling, roofs falling in. This is the reality of farms in Ontario today and it's horrific. We can no longer afford all this low-density development, with a five-bedroom house and a 92-foot garden for every family, built on a field that once would have fed the city.

This coming weekend, the annual Jane's Walks commemorate urban activist Jane Jacobs, an American who made Toronto her home and who made the city a better place with her opposition to a freeway through downtown neighbourhoods.

In her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs analysed the growth of cities and discussed the problems with the kind of 1970s development that we still see today. High-rise apartments set in open fields, desolate land used by nobody, or single-family housing on wide streets, impossible to navigate without a car. Jacobs was an advocate for high-density, urban development: re-using old buildings for new purposes, housing taking up less space, but close to park space that people will actually use. She believed in neighbourhoods with mixed use buildings: housing, small businesses, light industry, artisan spaces, all crammed together in a city neighbourhood. You live, work, shop, and hang out in the same small area. You know the local personalities. Your local dry cleaner, for example, can make a living because local people have their clothes cleaned there. There is no need to drive to a mall: you use local shops and you know your local shop owners.

Toronto is considering a new plan, and citizens must think carefully about the city we want. High-density apartments with three bedrooms, suitable for a family, as opposed to condos consisting of small rooms suitable for one young person. And these new neighbourhoods need schools, groceries, and parks just as much as they need fab new restaurants and gyms. We want neighbourhoods, places where people can live their lives. We don't want fishbowls. Let's ensure that Toronto's new neighbourhoods are sustainable, livable, and worthy of the great city we are building.

Farmers feed cities: lest we forget! long live the rare, independent farmer! Next time you see a fruit stand: stop!

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