Coalition of farmers and urban foodies halts Ontario mega-quarry – by Joe Friesen (Globe and Mail – November 22, 2012)

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It would have been the biggest quarry in Canada, but it was stopped in its tracks by an unusual coalition of farmers, urban foodies, artists, environmentalists and native bands, one that suggests a model for organizing opposition to resource projects.

The movement against the Ontario quarry was launched with nothing more than a basic story. An American company had convinced local farmers it was buying up chunks of land for a potato farm. Potatoes were only part of the plan, however. It soon made an application to build a massive quarry that the opposition said would threaten the groundwater and soil in one of the most fertile land belts in the country.

The plan seemed outrageous to many locals. But how could anyone else be convinced to care if it wasn’t happening in their backyard? The rest of the province had to be persuaded that the fight was about them, too. That meant mobilizing people in the cities. The best way proved to be through their stomachs.

On Wednesday, the Highland Companies withdrew its controversial application to build a limestone quarry in Melancthon township, about 100 kilometres northwest of Toronto, citing a lack of support in the community.

It was an unexpected move that capped a two-year battle for a diverse band of citizens.

What began with local farmers afraid of a potential threat to their land soon became a broad coalition, whose clout grew through the political motivations of urban foodies. Among the first and most influential was Michael Stadtländer, renowned as one of the country’s great chefs, who has a farm and restaurant in the area of the proposed site.

He rallied the Canadian Chefs Congress to the cause and in 2011 was part of a massive festival called Foodstock, that brought nearly 30,000 people to the area to sample locally grown foods prepared by dozens of celebrity chefs. This year he also helped organize Soupstock, bringing the protest to Toronto through an even larger food festival. He tried to convey the importance of protecting local food sources.

“We mobilized a lot of people,” Mr. Stadtländer said. “We had people come to the country and experience the land. This farmland grows food for the city. … For me it was a nice strategy.”

Another important strategic point to capture foodies was at Toronto farmers’ markets, where signs saying Stop the Mega Quarry were distributed along with pamphlets and petitions. Mark Calzavara, Ontario organizer for the Council of Canadians, said the movement really harnessed the emerging enthusiasm for food as a political tool.

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