California farms turn to well-drilling to combat drought

California's drought is hitting farmers hard, forcing them to drill deeper for water or abandon their farms all-together.

Watch video.

Aired on CBC's The National, July 9, 2014

Margaret Atwood Protecting Food and Water


Canadian Author, Margaret Atwood and NDACT Vice Chair, Shirley Boxem

On a perfect June 22nd afternoon, hundreds of people gathered at a farm in Midhurst, Ontario for a celebration and a cause. They gathered to raise awareness and funds to fight the development of nearly 2,000-acres of Class 1 farmland and threats to the nearby world-renowned Minesing wetland. The keynote speaker was author Margaret Atwood. Her appearance was made possible by a tweet from the Midhurst Ratepayers’ Association, asking her to support the citizens’ group. She responded by saying she’d attend a fundraiser in the community if they gathered 5,000 names on a petition. They did and Ms. Atwood kept her promise.

In her remarks Margaret Atwood urged Midhurst residents to be “a part of something bigger than yourself.” She also called on Premier Kathleen Wynne to protect the Minesing wetland. “So with this (the environment) as a priority for your government, why would you let the most important wetland in Ontario be destroyed?”

Food & Water First volunteer, Shirley Boxem, also addressed the gathering and was delighted to see Ms. Atwood sporting a Food & Water First button. Congratulations to our Partners in Midhurst on a terrific event. For further details, watch this report from CTV Barrie.


By F&WF News Team

Land at centre of mega-quarry fight sold

ORONTO – The farmland at the centre of a heated fight, which pitted local farmers and environmentalists against a company backed by a $25-billion Boston hedge fund, has been sold.

Local farmers and citizens’ groups, who fought for years to block a proposed mega-quarry by Highland Companies, are welcoming the new owners.

Bonnefield Financial – a Canadian farmland investment company -announced this week it had bought more than 2,600 hectares of land from Highland Companies.

Bonnefield said the Class 1 farmland would continue to be used for farming.

“Here we have Canadian investors, supporting Canadian farmers to ensure that one of our most precious resources – farmland – continues to be used for farming,” said Bonnefield president Tom Eisenhauer in a press release.  “That’s the core of Bonnefield’s mission: farmland for farming. We look forward to working with local farmers who will operate this land on a long-term basis and to ensure that it is preserved and enhanced for farming use.”

Agricultural and Community Taskforce (NDACT), Conserve Our Rural Environment (CORE) and Citizens’ Alliance United for a Sustainable Environment (CAUSE) welcomed the news of the sale.

“We’re delighted that a Canadian investment firm sees the value in farming,” said NDACT’s chair, Carl Cosack.

“It seems we share the same interests: keeping the province’s precious farmland productive for all Ontarians.  This is a great outcome after seven intense years of public engagement,” he said.

NDACT works to protect resources in North Dufferin County and across Ontario, including farmland and the watersheds. Through its campaign “Food & Water First,” the group is working to see legislation passed at Queen’s Park that would protect Class 1 farmland from all non-farming development. (Class 1 farmland is the highest quality.)

Bonnefield representatives have stated publicly that the farmland will be used for farming – but it’s a sentiment members of the community have heard before.

Cosack told Global News the question for local farmers is not who owns the land, but rather what are they doing with it.

“If 100 years from now we decide we don’t need to grow food…that’s fine,” said Cosack. But, he said, legislation needs to be put in place to protect the land, because if in 100 years “you still need farmland to grow food, you can’t just create it.”

The farmland at the centre of the years-long battle in Melancthon Township, located approximately 100km northwest of Toronto, falls within the region known as Hills of Headwaters, currently home to some of Canada’s richest soil. The countryside attracts hundreds of tourists and cottagers every year.

In 2006, John Lowndes purchased almost 3,250 hectares of land for Highland Companies, telling local farmers of his plan to start a large co-operative potato farm. Local residents eventually grew suspicious of Highland’s plan for the land.

In 2009 it became public that Highland Companies had acquired the land to build a quarry that would stretch over 930 hectares and plunge deeper than Niagara Falls.

Because the quarry would fall below the water table, 600 million litres of water would be pumped out of the quarry every day, and thousands of 40-tonne trucks would travel on local roads every day, 24 hours a day.

After Highland’s plan went public, what followed was years of protests from local residents and groups including the David Suzuki Foundation, Wellington Water Watchers and the Canadian Chefs’ Congress.

In September 2011, after numerous protests and petitions, Ontario’s Minister of the Environment John Wilkinson ordered Highland Companies to undertake a comprehensive environmental assessment of the quarry proposal.

Thousands of letters of objection were sent to Linda Jeffrey, the province’s Minister of Natural Resources, questioning the science of Highland’s initial application.

Meanwhile, the province awaited notification from Highland Companies whether they would participate in the environmental assessment or abandon the project.

The company withdrew their quarry proposal last November.

“While we believe that the quarry would have brought significant economic benefit to Melancthon Township and served Ontario’s well-documented need for aggregate, we acknowledge that the application does not have sufficient support from the community and government to justify proceeding with the approval process,” said John Scherer of Highland Companies in a press release.

Highland Companies also announced Lowndes had resigned as company president.

By Heather Loney, Global News

Posted on the Global News website, July 18, 2103

© Shaw Media, 2013

Food & Water First - TVO's Agenda

What is rural Ontario?

We are told that rural Ontario is idyllic landscapes, happy families, and farms. But what is rural Ontario? And does it have a future?


agendaaudioThe phrase "Food and Water First" was uttered on The Agenda with Steve Paikin Thursday, March 14, 2013. Anita Stewart, the University of Guelph's Food Laureate, was a guest, along with Mark Wales of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. They were part of an excellent panel discussion on rural Ontario.

Listen to the audio podcast.

  At the end of the show, Mark Wales said "We need to discuss the preservation of farmland." Anita agreed and said "Food and Water First, it has to trump aggregate." Steve Paikin mentioned the mega quarry, saying "You won." Anita replied "They still own the land and they'll probably be back."  

To see all the pictures that were submitted in response to "What is rural Ontario?", click here.


  And, in another happy development,  Natalia Shields' stunning photo of the Melancthon potato fields is on the main website of the Agenda! Just click through the photos on this link and you'll recognize it immediately. (It's the second photo after Aboriginal Education's Future) Congrats again, Natalia!

Donna T.

"What is rural Ontario?" was broadcasted March 14, 2013 on The Agenda, a segment of the TVO programming.

Mega-quarry' won't be built - Television Stories

November 21, 2012

Due to the many media reports about this great turn in events, we have chosen to post a few lines from each article and their links. Many of the articles are similar, as they are reporting on the same media release from Highland media representative, Lindsay Broadhead.


Those opposed to the project were concerned about losing a massive swath of rich farmland and worried about the quarry’s effect on the water table.

Posted on the "CBC News" website, Nov. 21/12

Read more:



A proposed mega-quarry planned for north of Toronto is no more.

Read it on Global News: Highland Companies withdraws mega-quarry proposal for north of Toronto

Posted on the "Global News" website, by Heather Loney, Nov.21/12



Acknowledging widespread public opposition, the company behind a proposed mega-quarry at a site north of Toronto has backed down.

In a statement released Wednesday, the Highland Companies announced it was withdrawing its request to develop the project in Melancthon Township.

Read more at:

Posted on the "CTV News" website, Nov. 21/12



It was a plan that sparked plenty of protest and on Wednesday the company behind the Melancthon “mega quarry” in Dufferin County axed the plan.

Read more at:

Posted on the "City News" website, by Shawne McKeown, Nov.21/12