My name is Susan Reesor. I was born and raised on a farm in Markham, not far from the Pickering Lands. The extended Reesor family has been growing food on this land since 1804.
My colleague, Jim Miller, is co-owner of Thistle Ha' Farm, adjacent to the Pickering Lands. His great-grandfather settled the farm in 1839.
Jim and I are executive members of Land Over Landings, a citizens' organization whose mission is to convince the federal government that a large tract of Crown land in Pickering, almost all of it prime farmland, should no longer be held for a potential airport, but instead, be developed as a food source for the greater Toronto area and beyond.
The land, which is very near to us here, was expropriated in 1972, and 46 years later, half of it has been turned into a national park. The remaining 9,600 acres still sit in limbo. As far back as 1985, the Auditor General was calling the land-banked site a non-productive asset. The part left in limbo is still a non-productive asset.
Land Over Landings recently commissioned a first-ever agricultural economic study of these lands to ascertain the site's current economic output and to determine its potential if dedicated to food production and agricultural research. The study, which we have provided to the clerk, found that economic output had dropped by half under Transport Canada's ownership, while job numbers had plummeted by two-thirds.
On the other hand, the report described a possible future for the lands that shows a viable path to new prosperity. If the government agreed to put the lands back into diversified farming, if it made them a training ground for the next generation of farmers, if it provided affordable farmland to new farmers who could capitalize on its proximity to Canada's largest food market and take advantage of the tourism spillover from the new Rouge National Urban Park, if it opened the door to the establishment of research facilities on the lands for agricultural innovation and climate change adaptation, these combined farming and agri-tourism activities could create more than 2,100 new jobs and revitalize an area that has become an economic wasteland, dragging down surrounding communities with it.
The study's consultants calculated that these 9,600 acres, on their own, could generate $238 million in overall economic activity annually. From another perspective, the status quo constitutes a lost opportunity to our economy of $4.4 million per week.
Today, the 11 airports of the southern Ontario airport network are collaborating to meet the region's projected aviation needs for the next 30 years. Many of these airports, including Pearson, can expand should the need arise. In fact, Pearson's latest master plan for 2017 through 2037 makes clear that Pearson has a number of options for expanding its operations, meaning that the Pickering site will remain land-banked for another three decades at least, maybe forever, given that we need to drastically cut, or even eliminate, our carbon emissions in the course of this century.
The Pickering site is at risk of becoming a stranded asset, a fate that could be averted if the farmland were permanently committed to helping meet the future's biggest challenges: feeding the world's growing population and mitigating climate change.
These lands are capable of reliably producing safe, fresh food for Canadians and the world for generations to come. It's hard to imagine anything more crucial to our future well-being than protecting our most valuable food sources while we still can.
We can provide you with details during the question-and-answer part of this hearing. Today, we ask the committee to allocate funding to help transition this Crown land from languishing site to a prosperous farming and research community whose output could start paying dividends quickly under the overall management of a public custodian.
The essential elements are already in place to turn these lands into one of the new food hubs serving Canada and the world, as was recommended in the 2017 Barton report on agriculture.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.