Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Taters Not Craters: Industrial Development vs. Fertile Farmland

Climate
Taters Not Craters: Industrial Development vs. Fertile Farmland

David Suzuki

A billion tons of limestone lie beneath the rural countryside in Melancthon Township, 100 kilometres north of Toronto. A plan to remove it spotlights the challenges faced everywhere when the desire to protect valuable and ever-diminishing farmland clashes with efforts to push industrial development.
 
The Highland Companies, backed by a $25-billion Boston hedge fund, hopes to blast a big hole in this fertile land to get at a deposit of 400-million-year-old sedimentary rock. The pit would cover more than 930 hectares and be almost 20 stories deep—the second-largest quarry operation in North America, and the largest in Canadian history.

According to the company’s proposal, moving this much rock will require 20,000 kilograms of explosives a day for the next few decades, and hundreds of trucks and heavy machines. The proposed quarry would be 60 meters below the water table—vertically deeper than 50-meter-high Niagara Falls, and twice as wide.
 
For generations, local farmers have benefited from the area’s unique, 10,000-year-old soil, called “Honeywood silt loam.” This Class 1 agricultural soil—the rarest in Canada—is not too sticky or sandy, holds moisture, drains well and is free of rocks. It’s perfect for potatoes. Area farms now harvest more than 450,000 kilograms of spuds each year, including about half the fresh potatoes consumed in the Greater Toronto Area.

If the company only intended to remove the limestone and then allow the pit to fill with water, it would be similar to quarries across Canada, including more than 2,000 in Ontario. However, the Highland plan is far more ambitious. Beyond clearing the land and digging under the water table, the company wants to set aside the prized agricultural soil and then put it back at the bottom of the pit once the rock is removed. That way, farming can continue sometime in the future. Problem solved!
 
But cultivating crops at the bottom of a pit 60 meters below the water table is not easy. It would require about 600-million liters of water to be pumped out every day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week—forever.
 
The company claims its proposal to recover agricultural opportunities is proof of noble intent and sustainable ambitions. Critics argue the plan is unrealistic. Forever is a long commitment, especially for a company backed by a foreign hedge fund.
 
The prospect of this engineered waterfall in reverse is particularly troubling, as Melancthon is at the headwaters of five major rivers—watersheds whose groundwater provides drinking water for up to one million Ontarians living downstream.
 
Fortunately, the movement to stop the quarry has grown from gatherings in church basements to a broad community of support spanning small, well-organized local groups like the North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Taskforce to respected national organizations like the Council of Canadians.
 
More than 130,000 people have signed a petition demanding the project be rejected, and at least 5,000 formal complaints have been submitted to the provincial government. Last fall, 28,000 people and dozens of chefs, musicians and artists showed their support by attending Foodstock, a public protest event held at several farms adjacent to the proposed quarry site.
 
The Ontario government reacted by ordering an environmental assessment—the first ever for a quarry in Ontario.
 
Despite the considerable odds facing citizens trying to stop the mega-quarry, the movement to protect the Melancthon region’s prized farmland and precious headwaters continues to grow. Those efforts include Soupstock on Oct. 21, hosted by the Canadian Chefs’ Congress and David Suzuki Foundation in Toronto’s Woodbine Park. The day-long culinary celebration, with more than 180 of Canada’s top chefs joining local farmers and producers to concoct original soup creations for tens of thousands of foodies and supporters, shows that protest movements can be celebratory and fun.
 
Feasting together is an ancient way of affirming group identity and acknowledging that our lives come, literally, from the soil. With valuable farmland and the food it produces facing threats ranging from residential and industrial development to floods and droughts related to climate change, we must take every opportunity to celebrate and protect what we have. I encourage you to explore the farms and fields near your community, and connect with the land that feeds us.

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic.

——–

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Specialist Jode Roberts.
 
For more insights from David Suzuki, please read Everything Under the Sun (Greystone Books/David Suzuki Foundation), by David Suzuki and Ian Hanington, now available in bookstores and online.

 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A resident works in the vegetable garden of the Favela Nova Esperanca – a "green favela" which reuses everything and is subject to the ethics of permaculture – in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Feb. 14, 2020. NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP via Getty Images

Farmers are the stewards of our planet's precious soil, one of the least understood and untapped defenses against climate change. Because of its massive potential to store carbon and foundational role in growing our food supply, soil makes farming a solution for both climate change and food security.

Read More Show Less
Once the virus escapes into the air inside a building, you have two options: bring in fresh air from outside or remove the virus from the air inside the building. Halfpoint Images / Getty Images

By Shelly Miller

The vast majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs indoors, most of it from the inhalation of airborne particles that contain the coronavirus. The best way to prevent the virus from spreading in a home or business would be to simply keep infected people away. But this is hard to do when an estimated 40% of cases are asymptomatic and asymptomatic people can still spread the coronavirus to others.

Read More Show Less
California Senator Kamala Harris endorses Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden at a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, Michigan on March 9, 2020. JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden made a historic announcement Tuesday when he named California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate in the 2020 presidential election.

Read More Show Less
An aerial view taken on August 8, 2020 shows a large patch of leaked oil from the MV Wakashio off the coast of Mauritius. STRINGER / AFP / Getty Images

The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.

On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.

France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.

The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.

"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."

Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.

By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.

The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.

"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.

While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.

"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.

Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.

Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.

A northern mockingbird on June 24, 2016. Renee Grayson / CC BY 2.0

Environmentalists and ornithologists found a friend in a federal court on Tuesday when a judge struck down a Trump administration attempt to allow polluters to kill birds without repercussions through rewriting the Migratory Treaty Bird Act (MBTA).

Read More Show Less
A spiny dogfish shark swims in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Washington. NOAA / Wikimedia Commons

By Elizabeth Claire Alberts

There are trillions of microplastics in the ocean — they bob on the surface, float through the water column, and accumulate in clusters on the seafloor. With plastic being so ubiquitous, it's inevitable that marine organisms, such as sharks, will ingest them.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A "vessel of opportunity" skims oil spilled after the Deepwater Horizon well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. NOAA / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Loveday Wright and Stuart Braun

After a Japanese-owned oil tanker struck a reef off Mauritius on July 25, a prolonged period of inaction is threatening to become an ecological disaster.

Read More Show Less