Small township faces ire of small farm operators
By Tom Schoch
Special to Farmers Forum
WINCHESTER — A small Eastern Ontario township was on the verge of telling its rural residents last month that small farms were just too small for farming.
The Township of North Dundas faced opposition from small scale farmers in a public zoom meeting April 13 when the local council decided to increase the minimum number of acres of land zoned agricultural to a minimum of 20, up from five acres. The move angered residents who moved to the region to start garden- farms, homesteads, small-scale livestock and specialty crop operations.
Although those already operating under the current bylaw would be grandfathered in, future opportunities and diversification would be stifled with concern that the only land for sale would be out of reach financially or too large for the intended use.
“If the powers that be want to continue supporting agriculture in the region, how come we don’t have support at the policy level to make sure farms of all sizes can exist?” asked farmer Amanda Veryl on Facebook. “Rules like the 20-acre hobby farm rule will continue to uphold huge business with no room for small businesses to exist as well.”
According to local director of planning, Calvin Pol, the change was necessary to make the bylaws of the two former town- ships, Mountain and Winchester, match. North Dundas has operated with four separate sets of bylaws since amalgamation in 1998.
So, why make the change now and why the increase to 20 acres? Two Eastern Ontario councillors pointed out that the bylaw was required to stay in lock-step with the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Official Plan as well as the Ontario Provincial Policy Statement which requires a lot size minimum. But that is not the case.
The provincial policy statement, adopted in 2020, does not set a numerical minimum (under sec- tion 2.3.4) for agricultural lots or rural lands. The United Counties Official Plan also does not have a set minimum lot size. Rather, both documents state that, “lots are of a size appropriate for the type of agricultural use(s) common in the area and are sufficiently large to maintain flexibility for future changes in the type or size of agricultural operations.”
The Wynne government did attempt to put a 40-hectare or 99-acre minimum on new or severed agricultural lot sizes, but the United Counties took the province to court over the modification and won.
It is curious that North Dundas didn’t peak over the border at neighbouring South Dundas, which had already estab- lished an agricultural use lot size minimum in 2010; 75 acres for agricultural lots and 2.5 acres for rural lots.
“I don’t come from an agricultural background,” admitted North Dundas councillor Gary Annable. “It’s a learning experience for me, for council and for the public as well,”
Other counties, including Essex and Grey County, have gone so far as to commission comprehensive studies before setting any standards. The township council deferred the pro- posed bylaw to another public meeting.
“We want to make sure we get this right,” said North Dundas Mayor Tony Fraser.
Size shouldn’t squash opportunity. And in this case, one size certainly doesn’t fit at all.