Hot Potatoes

They see a community and way of life lost, profits from local labour flowing south, and their exceptional farmland and water resources disappearing into a very, very large hole in the ground.

September 15, 2009 | | Autumn 2009 | Back Issues | Departments | Editor’s Desk | In Every Issue

The township of Melancthon has always been a bit of an anomaly in Dufferin County. Located in the far northwest corner of the county, and characterized by a vast plain of fertile cropland, it has remained a predominantly agricultural community.

The township is outside the provincial planning regions of the Niagara Escarpment, the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Greenbelt, that complicate planning in much of the Headwaters region. It lacks proximity to a major urban centre and, for the most part, it does not have the dramatic hills that attract rural estate development and weekend homes for urban refugees – and the reversion to forest cover that often accompanies them.

The township does contain the vital headwaters of the Grand and Nottawasaga Rivers, and one of the largest contiguous areas of vegetable cropland in Ontario. It is one of the two large, first-class farming regions in Headwaters. The other one, the Peel Plain at the south end of Caledon, has all but disappeared under the pressure of urbanization. And the province has designated much of what remains as “white belt” within the Greenbelt – that is, open for development.

A few years ago, Melancthon was discovered by wind developers, and in remarkably short order became home to one of the largest wind developments in Canada. The unassuming, hardworking farm community was suddenly on the map – and another developer soon moved in.

Over the past three years, The Highland Companies, a U.S.-based investment syndicate, has purchased the region’s two largest family potato farms, Wilson’s and Downey’s, along with several smaller farms, assembling 9,500 acres in all, most of it in Melancthon. Along with industrial potato farming, the company’s plans include wind and rail development, and a 2,400-acre limestone quarry. It has already invested many millions in its projects.

The scale of the development is unprecedented in this region. Highland claims it will bring a prosperous, sustainable future to Melancthon – and it has launched a major public relations offensive and provincial lobbying effort to make its point. But many people in the community are not persuaded. They see a community and way of life lost, profits from local labour flowing south, and their exceptional farmland and water resources disappearing into a very, very large hole in the ground.

In Ontario, aggregate extraction trumps every other land use, including food production, and that makes it an uphill struggle for quarry opponents on the Melancthon plain.

In this issue, Tim Shuff examines both sides of the debate.

Read and wonder.

About the Author More by Signe Ball

Signe Ball is publisher/editor of In The Hills.

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