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VELD architect @ Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Conference 2022

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A Panel Discussion on On-Farm Diversified Uses

ontario fruit and veg conference panel with VELD architect
from left to right: Kevin Vallier (standing), Krista Hulshof from VELD architect, Hollis English, Jim Muzyka, Mark Saunders

On February 22, 2022 Krista participated in a panel discussion regarding the on-farm diversified uses. This topic hits a little too close to home for many people. Most stories are heartbreaking and frustrating, to say the least.

The presentation started with Pam Duesling & Emily DeSousa talking about their research around the current OMAFRA guidelines and farmers’ desire to on-farm diversified uses. This OMFRA document can be found HERE. It is the guideline OMFRA has provided to the province for municipalities to use when they evaluate and approve on-farm diversified uses in their municipality. May small townships don’t have access to their own planner so they rely on these documents or just wing it! The main takeaway from the OMAFRA document is twofold. There are three tiers of on-farm uses slowly digressing from a core agriculture definition. They are:

  • Agriculture means the growing of crops, including nursery, biomass, and horticultural crops; raising of livestock; raising of other animals for food, fur or fibre, including poultry and fish; aquaculture; apiaries; agro-forestry; maple syrup production; and associated on-farm buildings and structures, including, but not limited to livestock facilities, manure storages, value-retaining facilities and accommodation for full-time farm labour when the size and nature of the operation requires additional employment.
  • Agriculture-Related means those farm-related commercial and farm-related industrial uses that are directly related to farm operations in the area, support agriculture, benefit from being in close proximity to farm operations, and provide direct products and/or services to farm operations as a primary activity. Example: A Grain elevator fall into this category as it is not agriculture but related and benefits from being near agriculture. OR A winery primarily using grapes grown in the area could be an agriculture-related use. A winery making wine from grapes or concentrate shipped in from another region of Ontario, another province or another country, would not be.
  • On-Farm Diversified means uses that are secondary to the principal agricultural use of the property, and are limited in area. On-farm diversified uses include, but are not limited to, home occupations, home industries, agri-tourism uses, and uses that produce value-added agricultural products.

The principle is that farming must come first, then you can add on these other uses that support the core farm business.

The second major take-away from the OMAFRA guidelines is that any on-farm diversified uses should not take away from prime agriculture land. Therefore they recommend that on-farm diversified uses take note of more than 2% of 1 hectare of the overall property (whichever is smaller). This area calculation includes parking, septic (which can be quite large for some agritourism uses) and buildings and yard. Good in principle, but 2% can get quite small if your farm is not 100acres, or not useful already for core agriculture uses.

The research by Duesling & Sousa outlined some of the biggest hurdles when looking at on-farm diversified uses. Including Site Plan approvals, Building Permits, Neighbors, and financing. Their recommendation for improvement were as follows.

  • More training across municipalities
  • More clarity and clarification of the OMAFRA document
  • Reduced Site plan approval process and fees for farmers
  • More resources and support for farmers for on-farm diversified uses
  • Specifications on how to maintain the character of a farm within the parameters of on-farm diversified uses

For their full presentation check out this link. There is a slide with quotes from the interviews that expresses the intense passion and frustration from those interviewed!

Farmer quotes agritourism

Duesling & Sousa also presented the reasons why farmers want to include on-farm diversified uses as part of their farm business. This graph was most interesting to me and pulled at my heart. Many farmers are doing this to allow for growing the farm with what they have to allow succession and to provide opportunities for the next generation of farmers. Isn’t this what we’ve wanted for so long?

“keep the farm in the family”

why farmers start on farm diversified use

Which is why the next part of the panel discussion was so hard to hear. Three farmers and I sat on the panel and each told their on-farm diversified use story; from big names like Sanders Farm to a small farm near Alliston. They each told how difficult their journey with the municipality had been and the time, effort, and cost it took to get their proposals through. Some were even close to giving up!

Lessons & Tips

Mark Saunders, Saunders Farm near Ottawa – do it right the first time, be open with the municipality, and plan ahead

Jim Muzyka, Fennario Lavender farmer near Creemore – work with your neighbors as best you can, keep fighting for your passion, and get council on your side.

Hollis English @ Murphy’s Farm Market and Bakery – think out of the box, diversify in many ways that Covid and globalization and localization has offered. Connect with those who want your products/services

And Lastly Krista from VELD architect, who has heard these stories and more. Some projects have even been canceled and dreams dashed due to onerous regulations. And my heart breaks every time.

We see both sides. Many of the policies are important for land use, for preserving farmland, for maintaining rural landscapes, for ensuring peaceful and compatible uses with neighbors (IE you wouldn’t want a garbage dump in your backyard, and if you did you would want certain precautions to be in place (that’s why these regulations and approvals exist). We hope that the pendulum of approvals can come to a reasonable balance soon but for now, we also know that we can help you get through it.

VELD architect is a translator (no one but an architect speaks the languages of engineer, contractor, municipality, client, farmer), a telephone operator so no one is playing telephone or getting mixed up messages, and a results getter! We recently achieved a site plan approval for a client in 3 months, which the client along with other consultants had been trying for a year!  We try and set up clients for success, we let you know what you are in for and educate you on all these complex technical documents with our Project scouting process.

Book your project scouting call here.


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