Ontario’s “vegetable garden”
Along Highway 400, just south of Lake Simcoe, lies the Holland Marsh, a wetland and agricultural region in the valley of the Holland River. As part of Ontario’s Greenbelt, the marsh is largely located in Bradford West Gwillimbury—a municipality that was first settled two centuries ago and today includes, Bradford and Bond Head, where agriculture continues to provide a solid economic base. The area is commonly referred to as Ontario’s “vegetable garden” because of its varied fresh produce that is transported across the country and beyond.
Around the table
Farmers 200 years ago would still feel at home in many of the conversations taking place around the dinner table at farms in Bradford West Gwillimbury today on topics like weather, seasonal changes, and yield. But the increasing pressure from the effects of climate change, technology, and international influences would be as foreign to them as it is to many farmers from only one or two generations ago.
Young people who are preparing to be fourth or fifth generation farmers are highly educated and their understanding of how to harness technology and the connection that Ontarians have to their food is creating space for innovation in this traditional industry. There is a growing global perspective as the agrifood sector modernizes. Issues that are affecting farmers in Ontario and Bradford West Gwillimbury are also impacting farmers in places like South America and the Middle East. Around the world, the sector is beginning to be seen as a catalyst for positive change – young farmers are contributing back to their communities and understand that they are able to make a change for economic prosperity locally. It cultivates wealth throughout the value chain, all the way from farm to table.
In Bradford West Gwillimbury, I had a most engaging conversation with farm families. Their pride in profession and the community they loved was clear. Each of the sons and daughters, highly educated successors in the making, introduced themselves by referring to the legacy left to them. They educated me about current concerns ranging from the lack of high-speed internet, to encroaching development on productive farmland, to how consumer food fads cause unexpected gains and losses in short time periods. Implicitly they spoke of their desire for sustainability: the imperative to steward the environment, the desire for economic prosperity and their contribution to lively and resilient community life.
They are also citizens of the world. They are very aware that their own stories mirror global trends and link us in interesting ways to people and places beyond our borders. We are learning that issues such as water scarcity, drought and land degradation, and loss of biodiversity – all linked to climate change – are being reflected more frequently at home and abroad. Ontarian farmers see both obligation and opportunity. The agrifood sector can be a catalyst for positive change felt far and wide.
Every day the farmers of Bradford West Gwillimbury are making good on this country’s promise to future generations. They prove that we can honour our history while putting sustainability at the centre of how we prepare for an uncertain future. Thanks to them, I am renewed in my optimism that we have what it takes to achieve resilience, innovation, and abundance.Sustainability