Is Ontario Ready For Its First Farm 'CONDO'?
Thursday Jun 22nd, 2023
You may never want to be a farmer but a Toronto Developer is planning Ontario’s first farm that’s just like a condo.
I admit it isn’t in my future, but with the incredibly high rents, grocery bills and, for some, a generally unaffordable life in Toronto, a question they’re asking themselves “Is it worth it to stay in the city?”. A local developer thinks he may have an answer with a unique new development that promises a very different, much simpler and far cheaper living alternative. And it’s just two hours away, near Collingwood.
‘Thornbury Acres’ is being planned as the first community, of its kind in Ontario, offering residents the chance to try out a brand new (actually, it’s really a much, much older) way of life - cooperative farming life- without the usual capital, work and level of risk involved.
Toronto-based developer Castlepoint Numa launched the project in the wake of the COVID crisis after many people's perspectives shifted and lifestyle goals changed.
"People are educating themselves and making more informed decisions when it comes to the foods they eat, where they come from and how they're produced," the company writes.
"The pandemic spurred a significant increase in home gardening and homesteading as people began growing their own vegetables and became less dependent on the globalized agri-food supply chain and resilient against rising prices at grocery stores."
Ongoing spikes in food prices is something that all Canadians can relate to, especially in Toronto, shoppers are coming across overpriced everyday household staples (and complaining about it), even at supermarkets which call themselves budget-friendly.
The "elevated residential farm cooperative" of Thornbury Acres, with a dedicated 800 sf plot for each household, will allow owners to learn homesteading skills and grow their own produce, supported and maintained by the entire community.
Communal field crop zones, berry plots, orchards and food forests for growing corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, nuts and all sorts of fruit will be used to feed members, and also for additional revenue generation through sale, events and "agri-tourism activities" such as corn mazes and consumer picking.
Beehives and pollinator and herb gardens will also be on the nearly 100 acres of land dedicated to farming and recreation, along with a barn, windmill and 7.1 km of trails.
Around 60 acres of the land (40 per cent), will be taken up by country roadways and homes, of which there will be 37 in total.
The residential development will operate in the same way our downtown Toronto condos do , with a governing board and shared responsibility among owners for maintenance of the property — as well as for the farming of the food grown on it.
On May 16, a huge crowd packed into a public meeting held by the Blue Mountains council to get feedback from the community on the Thornbury Acres proposal.
A number of speakers and letter writers supported the proposal and said the co-operative would be a unique operation in the community that would help younger generations engage in farming activities. Other speakers expressed concerns and opposition to 37 homes being developed on a property currently zoned as agricultural, rural, speciality agriculture and hazard.
“This is the type of community I want to be part of,” said one proponent. “We are really committed to bring a wholesome, sensitive approach to this site.”
He called the proposed co-operative “a next-generation farm” and said the plan is proposing to grow the amount of specialty agriculture land on the property from 20 to 52 acres.
He also said providing some form of attainable/affordable housing could be a positive outcome although there nothing was addressed in the development proposal for such a component. “We do feel a duty to provide attainable housing. It’s something we’re exploring,” he said.
However, many speakers were opposed to such a development in the rural/agricultural part of the community.
“This is a wedge to get in, to get 37 homes,” said a neighbouring resident. “If I start a little vegetable garden, can I now start subdividing my property?”
And area resident said the proposal’s plan to involve homestead owners in farming activities on the co-operative is not realistic. “Farming is not easy. It’s bloody hard work. It’s expensive,” he stated. “Who can afford this? I do question if people are going to live in multi-million dollar homes to come up here and work rather than playing the Georgian Bay Club.”
Councillor Alex Maxwell asked how the property was going to support 37 separate individual wells for the homesteads, as well as farm operations. In response, he was told that their hydrogeological assessment has indicated a “robust” aquifer in the area to support the development.
Councillor June Porter said she had concerns that the proposed development would be beyond the financial reach of many people in the community. Porter noted that the homesteads in the project are over an acre in size and that land in The Blue Mountains is expensive.
“I don’t understand how this can be affordable for young people interested in farming,” she said.
Council made no decision on the applications at the meeting and a full staff report and recommendation will be coming in the near future.
We all know this is not a new idea - it’s being going on world- wide for a very, very long time. But it’s definitely new for Ontario. Hmmmm…