by BRIAN LOCKHART
Holland Marsh farmers are discovering that when you want to change a local council’s mind, let your numbers speak for you.
A recently published study on the economic impact of the area’s agriculture production has already helped change municipal council members’ minds “on a few issues,” says Alex Makarenko, chairman of the Holland Marsh Growers’ Association.
Commissioned by the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation with input from the growers’ association, the study reveals that the economic impact of the area’s agriculture production is more than $225 million.
The study was commissioned in response to the Ontario Power Authority’s plan to place a “peaker” power generation plant in the Marsh. The authority’s website says the plant would operate 800-900 hours a year to supply electricity only during peak demand, such as on hot summer days.
“Former Minister of Energy George Smitherman came up to the Marsh to tell everybody why a peaker plant was there and threw the economics at us while we were questioning him on it,” says the association’s executive director Jamie Reaume. “He said that $20,000 worth of taxes per year are far better for the township.”
But the farmers in the area disagreed, saying that the land value was worth more than revenue the township would receive.
The Marsh is a designated specialty crop area that covers 18,200 acres and stretches across two municipalities in the York Region north of Toronto. Sixty percent of the area is agricultural. The remaining 40 percent is wetlands.
The study reveals that the area’s 150 farmers annually generate $58 million in cash receipts. Related businesses pump $169 million into the economy.
“This doesn’t include the packing plants or facilities that have anything to do with fertilizer or any other added values,” says Reaume.
Production has increased between 2001 and 2006 in contrast to the slumping economy experienced by many other industries in the province.
Despite the marsh area being farmed since the early 1920s and recognized as one of Canada’s largest vegetable producing areas, actual productivity was not well documented until the study was completed.
“No one realized how many people we actually do affect financially and in terms of jobs and families,” says Makarenko.
The Marsh output is 36.4 per cent carrots and 34.5 per cent onions with the remaining crops being varied vegetables. About 50 per cent of the vegetables are exported to the U.S. market. BF