Local Food Production in Canada’s First National Urban Park

We all know that there is a lot of pressure on graduate researchers to produce work that is authentic and unique. While this pressure can be stressful and overwhelming, it is a great opportunity to grow as a researcher and a writer – something we often fail to embrace in the moment. With this pressure in mind, when I started looking into my research project, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to articulate my contribution in an informative and productive manner. I have spent my entire life in Scarborough, Ontario so when I heard about the Rouge National Urban Park initiative it piqued my interest. An important focus of this initiative is to provide a sustainable and healthy community through locally based food production (RNUP Management Plan, 2014). According to the Rouge National Urban Park management plan, the national urban park status will allow park visitors to reconnect with farms and farmers while providing farmers with the opportunities to showcase new ways of farming that are effective and rewarding for the community (2014). This initiative is a first for Canada and the park is expected to be among the biggest national urban parks in Canada and the United States.

While this is a great opportunity for Canada – especially for cities like Toronto, Markham and Pickering – there are several external factors associated with an initiative of such magnitude. A lot of my research looks at community participation, environmental governance and power dynamics in the creation of Canada’s first national urban park. The purpose here has been to investigate if and how the diversity of local communities is being included in the development of the park, how “relevant communities” are defined and incorporated into park planning processes; and to explore the impacts of the park on these communities, particularly in relation to the stated goals of the park (e.g. local food production and the distribution of food to low income neighbourhoods).

As I analyzed the management plan to see how the proposed land expansion will benefit the community, it became evident that the language in which the objectives are outlined is vague and unclear. While it discusses the potential for a sustainable and healthy community through locally based food production, it does not provide the contextual information that is needed to understand the proposed objectives. As of now it fails to mention if there are current farming practices that are ecologically sustainable, what kind of diversity currently exists, leasing concerns for tenant farmers, information on current stewardship and how this park is expected to improve farm infrastructure and productivity for surrounding communities. Several environmental organizations have also argued that the type of language used throughout this management plan, along with the vague descriptions of how community members have been included throughout the process, make it difficult to appreciate and/or support such a plan.

It has been an extraordinary experience to do interviews and attend events geared towards this initiative. While the writing process can be overwhelming at times, it has been remarkable and motivating to hear how others feel about this project. The Rouge National Urban Park presents both challenges and opportunities for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) as issues of inclusion, exclusion and sustainable development remain at the forefront. Keep a look out for important research findings and more on productive conversations I’ve had with local farmers and community members in the GTA!

 

References:

Fish, R., Seymour, S., & Watkins, C. (2006). Sustainable Farmland Management as Political and Cultural Discourse. The Geographic Journal, 172(3), 183-189.

Macaraig, M. (2011). Nature’s Keepers: Civil society actors and the neoliberalisation of conservation in the Rouge Park. Local Environment, 16(4), 357-374.

Parks Canada. (2014) Rouge National Urban Park Management Plan. Retrieved from http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/…/rouge/~/…/rouge/…/Rouge_Plan_Draft_EN.ashx

Pond, D. (2009). Ontario’s Greenbelt: Growth Management, Farmland Protection, and Regime Change in Southern Ontario. Canadian Public Policy, 35(4), 413-432.