The private property sign at the Millcroft golf course. Image: Doreen Nicoll/Provided

There’s a neighbourhood in Burlington, Ontario that is MAD! — Millcroft Against Development (MAD). The established 650-acre community of 2,400 single-family and town homes was built around the Millcroft Golf Club course in 1986.

The private golf course was owned by Ed Liptay until he formed Millcroft Greens after selling 50 per cent of his interests to Argo Development Corporation. Millcroft Greens intends to redesign the course — shortening it from 5,000 yards to 3,000 yards. That will let parcels of land to be redeveloped into housing.

Millcroft Greens submitted a development application to amend the Official Plan and Zoning By-law and for a Plan of Subdivision to redevelop five areas of an existing golf course with residential uses. A total of 98 single detached dwellings ranging in size from 2,051 to 3,778 square feet on 50 and 60-foot lots, and one six-story apartment building with 130 dwelling units is the current proposal.

MAD has undertaken an aggressive anti-development campaign including a recent tweet stating Millcroft is a safe haven for 53 species of birds. Unfortunately, the use of pesticides — allowed on golf courses under the slick name Integrated Pest Management (IPM) — threatens the survival of birds, other wildlife, pollinators and healthy biodiversity.

The energy and water spent keeping those greens and fairways perfectly manicured is reason enough in this time of climate crisis to rethink private golf courses.

The idea put forth by Millcroft residents of the golf course being a lovely green space for the enjoyment of all Millcroft and surrounding residents is also a non-starter when signs warn trespassers the course is private property and that they will be prosecuted.

So, we have a corporation wanting to make money building more luxury homes backing onto a smaller golf course fighting a group of ­­­­­­­­­­­armchair activists who don’t want development in their backyards — literally — and don’t want to give up the exclusivity of their private golf course and their property values.

Here’s a way to not only satisfy home owners and corporate interests, but also the greater Burlington community and the environment: have the municipality or region or province or a combination of all three purchase the entire golf course and rent it at reasonable rates to Black, Brown, Indigenous and women farmers.

Make this valuable farm land available to the most marginalized groups who have historically been kept out of farming and let them provide the surrounding neighbourhood — or agrihood — with a farmers market run out of the old club house with seasonal, organic produce grown and delivered with a miniscule carbon foot print.

Farmers operating Community Supported Agricultural ventures (CSA’s) create local ecological, alternative food systems. These small-scale farmers sell shares to customers in the spring in exchange for a weekly supply of locally grown, organic vegetables and fruits. But these farmers offer so much more to their customers and communities.

I joined my first CSA in the early 1990s. I had a young son and an infant daughter whom I wanted to nurture with foods free from genetic modification. I understood that crops grown using pesticides and synthetic fertilizers could be just as nutritious as organic produce. However, I chose organic because I did not want my kids consuming pesticide residues. I also wanted to minimize our family’s ecological footprint which became very important when the number of children I had to feed grew to five.

In addition to seasonal fruits and vegetables our farmer also sold free range eggs, dairy products from small local producers who did not use growth hormones, as well as ethically produced meat and poultry raised without routine doses of antibiotics. 

I wanted my kids to know the people who grew our food and to make sure that our farmer and his family received a fair price for food that they provided. It was also important my children meet farmers growing a wide variety of crops promoting genetic diversity and that they see farmers able to feed their own families as opposed to farmers who were buying their food at the local grocery store because they grew a single cash crop. 

According to the Farm and Food Care foundation, over the past 110 years the traditional Canadian farm has undergone major changes. Less than one per cent of all income earners are farmers. That’s a decrease of 91 per cent. The number of farms has dropped by 60 per cent. Farm sizes have increased by 228 per cent to an average of 778 acres per farm.

Conventional farmers tend to have greater input costs in the form of large machinery, pesticides and synthetic fertilizers than smaller scale organic farmers. Relying on a single commodity for income limits a farmers’ ability to thrive financially when yields are particularly low or when an overabundance floods the market driving prices down. In 2012, conventional farmers earned 33 cents for every dollar spent on food.

Farming half an acre of land means that a typical CSA can provide weekly produce for 50 to 75 families. Generally, the inputs are smaller because much of the work is done by hand, using less expensive equipment and without the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. These farmers capture closer to 80 cents of every dollar.

Homeowners in agrihoods establish relationships with the farmers and farm visits allow consumers to form ties to the land, surrounding environment and individual farm families.  Consumers are more likely to eat according to the abundance each season offers. All of this will create a sense of stewardship in the Millcroft community that’s needed to ensure healthy use of green spaces within urban boundaries.  

Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence. She has lived in the same home on the fringe of Millcroft for the past 24 years.

Image: Doreen Nicoll