Citizens and organizations are making Hamilton a model for how rural and urban can work together as part of a sustainable food system.
By Jason Thorne
Published August 18, 2015
Yes, Hamilton is still known as Steeltown. It's also becoming increasingly known as a thriving arts centre. But perhaps less well known is that about 80 percent of Hamilton is rural and agricultural lands.
Farm fields lining the Rail Trail in Hamilton (RTH file photo)
On the doorstep of this rural and agricultural area is an urban area of more than half a million people, soon to be more than 700,000. The city is working to take advantage of this unique opportunity and position itself as a leader in urban agriculture.
To help achieve that goal, the City's Planning and Economic Development Department, led by Planning Manager Joanne Hickey-Evans, has been systematically identifying, and removing, barriers to urban agriculture.
These efforts are part of a broader local food strategy supported by several City staff that is being spearheaded by the City's Public Health Department.
For example, we found that some of our land use policies created barriers to setting up farmer's markets. So we changed them.
We amended the Urban Hamilton Official Plan and the seven zoning-by-laws to permit urban farmers markets in many more places across the city, such as the parking lots of community centres and places of worship.
We also made some changes to the sign by-law to make sure that farmers markets can advertise themselves appropriately.
Locke Street Farmers' Market (RTH file photo)
We found that some of our business licensing regulations made things difficult for local farmers wishing to sell at these farmer's markets. So we fixed the regulations. We changed a licensing by-law that used to limit farmers to selling only their own produce.
Now farmers can bring their own produce to the markets, along with some produce from neighbouring farms or other Ontario farmers, and sell it without needing to apply for a business license.
We found an increasing number of urban residents were wanting to participate in community gardens. So we brought in new policies to permit them.
There are now new land use policies and zoning regulations that explicitly permit community gardens and urban farms in more places within the city's urban area - in vacant lots, underused parks, and other urban spaces.
Hill Street Community Garden (RTH file photo)
One of the findings of Hamilton's Neighbourhood Action Strategy was that parts of the City lack easy access to fresh and healthy food. There are already about a dozen community gardens on City-owned lands and about 60 community gardens operating in Hamilton.
Now there are more places in the city where community gardens and urban farms can be established.
Hamilton has a long history of grassroots efforts to support local agriculture, and to ensure all Hamiltonians have access to local, healthy food. Through the food strategy, the City is a significant partner in these efforts.
For the Planning and Economic Development Department, an important part of our partnership role is to make sure that our policies and regulations are not needlessly standing in the way. And that is what the initiatives described above will achieve.
There are now more places where local farmers markets can be established. It's easier for farmers to sell produce in those markets. And there are many more places across the city where neighbours can come together to create community gardens and urban farms.
I hope that through strategic, tactical policy changes like these, my Department can help the citizens and organizations who are making Hamilton a model for how rural and urban can work together as part of a sustainable urban food system.
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