Sprawl

Hamilton Lost 20% of Farmland since 1991

By RTH Staff
Published August 25, 2008

The Toronto Star has published an interactive map of lost farmland across southern Ontario.

Hamilton alone lost 20 percent of its farms in the 15 years between 1991 and 2006. Click on a highlighted region on the map for details.

Were destroying some of the best food growing land in the world so Mr. Homebuilder can pocket some money.

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By sammi (anonymous) | Posted August 25, 2008 at 12:58:19

My husband and I just moved up onto the West Mountain area from Stoney Creek..closer to work.. I can bike in now. Nearby the Chedoke Hospital sold their old buildings and vacant lands on the Brow and the builder wants to provide intensifacation by building low rise condos ( quality reseidences, I'm told ) but the usual Not in my face / backyard protesters have put up a bunch of anti-development protest signs. When are they all going to get it ? there is no more land to squander away. I for one would love to live on the Brow and not have to cut lawns or paint my eves.
Anyone know more about this project ? I checked with City Hall and it sounds like they are going forward to planning /?? council ?? soon ??

Save our farmland , buy locally and walk and bike a little more. It all helps.
Sammi

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By Thom (anonymous) | Posted August 25, 2008 at 18:43:08

While I appreciate that farms are definitely being lost, this map might also point to farm amalgamation and ever larger farms. This is also not a good trend since bigger, corporate farms need massive energy and chemical inputs and usually grow monocrops of genetically modified soy or corn.

How long could you live on just soy and corn because that's all that's being grown out here?

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 25, 2008 at 21:19:37

Sammi...you raise a great point about the opposition to a slightly more dense residential project on the Mountain Brow. Keep in mind, the same residents and councillors who oppose that plan are the same ones yelling and screaming about HHS decision to locate the new ER on Main West, instead of the Mountain. As Murray Martin points out, there's not enough people on the Mountain to warrant an ER, which is why they closed the one at Chedoke. Some people want all the amenities of a big city, but not the density to support the amenities.

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By lorne (registered) - website | Posted August 26, 2008 at 14:46:21

The fact that Hamilton has lost 20% of its farmland is a disturbing but not really surprising revelation. Having recently read Ronald Wright’s excellent A Short History of Progress, in which the author shows that since the beginning of civilization humanity has repeatedly demonstrated its shortsightedness in its exploitation and destruction of valuable environmental resources, it is clear that Hamilton’s loss is only a small part of much larger problems: our inability to learn from the past, our penchant for placing immediate profit over long-term sustainability, and our almost suicidal rush to destroy the very things necessary to continue life on this planet.

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By lorne (registered) - website | Posted August 26, 2008 at 14:59:20

The fact that Hamilton has lost 20% of its farmland is a disturbing but not really surprising revelation. Having recently read Ronald Wright’s excellent A Short History of Progress, in which the author shows that since the beginning of civilization humanity has repeatedly demonstrated its shortsightedness in its exploitation and destruction of valuable environmental resources, it is clear that Hamilton’s loss is only a small part of much larger problems: our inability to learn from the past, our penchant for placing immediate profit over long-term sustainability, and our almost suicidal rush to destroy the very things necessary to continue life on this planet.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted August 26, 2008 at 16:30:24

We lost 20 per cent of our farmland!

Looking at the waistlines of most Hamiltonians you'd have thought that our farmland endowment would have doubled!

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted August 29, 2008 at 21:51:19

Farms are a business like any other, and the people that own them are interested in making as much money as possible.

If a farm owner finds that he/she can make more money by selling the land than working it, then why wouldn't they sell the land to developers?

The market is simply a reflection of what people choose to spend their money on, in this case, single family homes. If single family homes were not in great demand, then developers would not be buying this land in the first place.

If demand for food increases over time, as well as the potential for profits, investors can always offer to buy up residential areas and turn them back into farms.

That is the great thing about the profit motive, it maximizes resource use so that society gets the most bang for the buck at any particular moment in time.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 30, 2008 at 08:38:20

ahh, the 'market'. Yes, it's quite a 'free market' when existing taxpayers have to subsidize that 'single family home' choice. Nothing says free market like constant flooding in East Hamilton with 100+ year old infrastructure while those same residents pay for the new infrastructure out in sprawl projects (and then, of course, pay to clean out their basements again). I'm all for the free market. Let's tie all the costs of road/water/electric/highway infrastructure and services like police/fire/ambulance/snow/garbage into the costs of new single homes and see how many people 'choose' to buy one.

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By treytrey (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2008 at 09:54:35

turn the housing survey back into farmlands? an interesting thought. Only it's about 2000 percent more difficult then turning farmland into housing. If it is even possible here's some of the obstacles.

1. the top soil is gone - sold off by the home builder to garden centers so that the new home owners can purchase it and put it back on their 'land' to grow a lawn and shrubbery to make believe they live in the country.

2. Ashphalt roads will make it a 'brown field'. It's a petroleum product that will have to be cleaned up suitable for farming.

3. Utilities. underground wires, sewers, house basements etc would be an extensive and expensive effort to remove. Corn would have to be $10 a cob in order for the market to justify undertaking this effort. At that price increase, food riots and civil unrest would happen before we expropriate land for farming.

4. Expropriating the land. It is one of the most difficult things to do for a federal effort let alone a city.

5. the soil is dead. all organic matter, along with the top soil that took a million years for nature to make cannot be easily man-made without chemical inputs. the root systems that were removed prevented flooding and the immediate run-off of rain water. the roots allowed the rain water to slowly be reabsorbed rather then cause miniature grand canyons from the water rushing for the nearest drain pipe. soon after a heavy rain the soil is dry again.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2008 at 15:45:08

Jason, if the city charged all residents for the actual services they receive, the less affluent areas of the city would need to start paying double what they do now. Since current taxes are based on assessment and not what residents consume, I guarantee you people in the east end are getting a lot more than they pay for.

Trey, the story of farming and food production is a very positive one. Every year food producers seem to generate more food from less acreage, and this trend has yet to slow down. Even countries like China are self sufficient in food production, despite the fact that they operate their farms using old technology, and have 40X more people than we do.

If you believe the experts, and consider obesity as a problem, than this would also work against the argument that we need more farms. If anything we need more homes, and less farms. What do you think?

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 31, 2008 at 23:03:06

I wasn't referring about the taxes that parts of the city pay, I'm referring to the artificially low price to buy a new home because existing taxpayers are subsidizing each development. If existing taxpayers didn't have to pay so much to fund sprawl (local experts estimate that the old city of Hamilton funded 75% of the cost for the Meadowlands in Ancaster) they would be funding the upkeep and renewal of their own neighbourhoods.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 01, 2008 at 17:42:33

Jason, this is exactly why I don't like big government, it pits citizen against citizen.

The government takes our money, and then it makes us fight each other to get it back. Everybody thinks they pay more then they get back in goods and services, and all of us are left feeling like we are getting screwed over.

The best remedy to all of this is to stop voting. By doing this, government's claim that they work for the people would be shown to be false, and all economic decisions would be taken back by the individual.

Charity would need to be stepped up, but this would be a good thing, as charity is supposed to be something shared between individuals, and not claimed by politicians as to how much they care about the "little" people.

The fact that politicians spend other people's money to show how much "they" care is another sign of how morally bankrupt the institution of government is.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted September 04, 2008 at 00:53:41

Housing prices get inflated in many ways. One is by making credit really easy to get - something the market has seen the sad results of very recently. Another is by deregulating rental markets (helped, further, by the offering of credit to speculators and slumlords looking to make a quick and easy buck) and allowing rents to rise. And largely, one needs to look the way of speculation. Once prices, already on the rise due to financial factors, prove themselves to be a good investment speculation explodes, rising violently in areas such as Toronto, Vancouver or London, people simply keep bidding each other's prices up, like a giant ponzi scheme.

The housing market is, for bankers and developers, a literal license to print money. Banks can lend out many times their total assets, and yet still charge several times the value of the home in interest. All too often, tenants pay the mortgage. Sprawl allows land to be bought up for next to nothing, a bunch of cheaply-built houses thrown up as fast as possible, and tens or hundreds of thousands of these make-believe dollars to flow in for each mass-produced unit.

Of course this is more profitable than farming, especially given the fact that the average Ontario farm is now a net loser of money, thanks to its own woes of capitalization (big loans for seed, pesticides, fertilizer and machinery). Behind the headlines of higher yields, the Green Revolution has exacted quite a cost on the world of agriculture, one which we're only beginning to witness now.

The one plus to this story, is that if one is looking toward urban agriculture, suburbs tend to offer lots of space for it.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 04, 2008 at 01:58:03

Undustrial, I totally agree with you about the fractional reserve banking system our government runs today. Considering that money is supposed to represent real tangible wealth, it should not be allowed to just be created out of thin air.

When money is created by government, and the way in which government accounts for price increases is flawed (Google article on "Owners equivalent rent duped the Fed"), you get bubbles. Over time these bubbles get worked through the system, but government involvement makes these swings more volatile than would otherwise be.

To your point about new homes being poor quality, I don't doubt this is the case. Anytime you get people chasing after any good in relatively short supply, sellers call the shots. No one forces people to buy a poor quality house, it is simply their own greed that makes them chase the asset bubble bonanza.

The reason GTA area farms are not as valuable as home building is because food can be imported as required. This is a good thing, because anytime you decrease land available for building homes, you create a shortage, which drives up prices so only the rich can afford their own dwelling.

That is the genius behind McGuinty's GreenBelt law, it has created an artificial shortage of land that has made it even harder for the poor to own their own house. That's why it so funny to here him talk about helping the poor, when in fact it is his own handiwork that is screwing them over in the first place. Awesome.

I love government.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted September 06, 2008 at 13:57:56

If you're going to place the blame for high housing costs on a shortage of land, then at some point that blame is going to fall upon those building homes at extremely low density. Housing choices are not made in an infinitely vast market - there is a very limited supply, and the choices about what new stock is available - largely condos and suburbs, and that influences the choices people make. Throw in some media-inspired prejudice and paranoia about living in the "inner city" (despite consistently falling crime rates) and a highly subsidized transportation system and infrastructure, and people's choices lean toward suburbs, truly one of the silliest and least sustainable forms of housing out there. While it's true that nobody's forcing people at gunpoint to live in substandard housing, it's hard to deny that there's some crooked dealing going on here.

undustrialism.blogspot.com

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 06, 2008 at 19:47:51

Anytime government restricts land use they increase the cost of homes, a simple case of supply and demand. Builders on the other hand do not restrict land use, in fact they would like to open up every single acre of land in Ontario to be able to build homes.

The fact that customers demand larger lots for their homes is not the fault of the builders, it is simply the buyers preference. Builders have a every motive in the world to reduce costs, and that includes keeping lot sizes small. Therefore, it is entirely the buyers who are driving the suburban lifestyle, and not big bad business.

A huge part of the cost in buying a home today is excessive government regulations, including zoning. Once again government interference distorts the natural interaction between buyer and seller, all the while claiming to be a friend of the poor.

A more cynical look at the greenbelt makes one wonder if it is not existing homeowners who benefit the most from this policy. Just as occupations lobby government to restrict the number of workers in their chosen field (thus keeping wages artificially high, i.e. plumbers, doctors, auto mechanics), existing homeowners benefit when their biggest asset (their house) is kept in short supply.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted September 07, 2008 at 17:11:16

There's no doubt that all manner of bad policy arises out of homeowners attempting to protect or enhance the value of their "investments" (a very silly financial proposition, given the extra hundreds of thousands they'll be spending on the mortgages).

I still don't buy that it's all the fault of homebuyers though. Most markets, like suburban housing, are an interaction of a small, centralized and very influential group and a vast and atomized group of individuals. Power resides with the homebuilders. It's the same reason millions of cell phone customers still can't get a phone that's sealed at the seams and waterproof, or an answer to exactly what the hell all of those "network connection charges" actually mean. It's also why it's more profitable for Ford to produce cars that explode, enveloping customers in fiery death, rather than spending a few dollars a car on safety precautions. Markets of this sort reduce products to the lowest common denominator, creating products that exist largely for the purposes of those selling them, and do little for (or a fair bit against) those buying them. Food devoid of nutrition and filled with questionable chemicals, appliances which break down minutes after the warranty runs up and clothes which are neither warm, durable or practical.

Face it, if consumers were really as rational as market theory makes them seem, advertising just wouldn't work.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 08, 2008 at 01:27:58

I fully agree that most businesses main concern is the profit motive. However, in a free market, the only way to do this consistently, is to make your customers satisfied with the products you are selling.

The only reason people can't get a cell phone that is not waterproof, is because they are not sending that signal to the manufacturer. As long as customers are willing to pay for phones without this feature, why would any company spend more installing a feature they don't have to?

If customers started buying cell phones not based on the wow factor as they do now, but rather started demanding great craftsmanship, the market would reflect this new reality.

The fact is that most new home buyers want the sizzle more than the steak. Obviously, if people could have high quality homes and not have to sacrifice any of the wow factor, than people would buy high quality homes. The fact is everything in life is a trade off, and the market simply reflects the features that people are demanding the most.

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