by Malcolm Jolley, with Photos by Jason Van Bruggen

UPDATE: Toronto Chefs join Michael Stadtlander in fight against Mega-Quarry.

David Vander Zaag is a potato farmer in the municipality of Melancthon. Melancthon is just north of the town of Shelburne, a little west of Creemore and a little south of Singhampton. Some call it “Ontario’s Roof”, since it sits on top of the Niagara Escarpment and is the highest point in Southern Ontario. Its geology is important to Vander Zaag for two reasons: the first is that the topsoil on his farm sits on top of roughly 200 feet of limestone, which gives it the perfect drainage to raise potatoes – in fact, it’s the only spot in Ontario where potato farming of any consequence is possible or desirable. Apart from what’s grown in the odd market garden, if you’ve had a local potato in Toronto or anywhere else in Southern Ontario, it likely came from this corner of Dufferin County. In fact, the soil is so special it’s been given its own designated name, Honeywood Loam, after a hamlet in the middle of the spud growing area. Being on “The Roof of Ontario”, the region also has a slightly cooler micro-climate. In other words, it’s about as perfect a place to grow potatoes as you could imagine. And a rare one: only 3% of land in Ontario is used for food farming, and only 1.5% of that for vegetables like David Vander Zaag’s potatoes.

The second reason the geology of Melancthon is important to David Vander Zaag, and his neighbouring farmers who have created a group called the North Dufferin Agriculture and Community Taskforce (‘NDACT’), is that a corporation called The Highland Companies, which is financed by a Boston hedge fund called The Baupost Group, have bought-up thousands of surrounding acres of Class 1 farmland with the intention of mining the largest open pit gravel quarry in the history of Ontario. According to the Citizen’s Alliance for a Sustainable Environment, which opposes the mega-quarry for environmental reasons, and operates a Facebook page called Stop The Quarry, where information about the efforts to preserve the farmland is traded and updated, the proposal to build the 2,400 acre mega-quarry, which will mine the limestone 200 feet deep, was not put forward by Highland, until after they had secured much of the land. Vander Zaag and his fellow farmers worry that as the quarry digs down into the water table (Highland admits it will have to pump 600,000,000 litres of water a day from the Oil Sands-scale pit, which will be continually blasted out by explosives) their ability to farm will diminish, as will the value of their land as family farms.

As it stands, NDACT and CAUSE are encouraging anyone with a stake, or an interest in the project, to write a letter to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, who must approve Highland’s plan to develop the land, before the deadline of April 26. Click here for more information.

Malcolm Jolley is the founding editor of Good food Revolution. Jason Van Bruggen is a partner at Asymetric Media.