In 2009, a small group of local farmers and neighbours in Melancthon Township (about 90 minutes northwest of Toronto) united to form the North Dufferin Agricultural Community Task Force (NDACT) a citizen-group charged with the almost impossible task of challenging a $22 billion-dollar Boston-based Hedge Fund in its plan to convert 2,300 acres of the area’s prime farmland – some of the best in Ontario – into Canada’s largest open-pit mega quarry. The task was all the more daunting because current provincial legislation sides clearly with the aggregate industry and a full environmental assessment for such a quarry was not required.
The saga began in 2006, when area farm families began received handsome offers (30% above market value) to sell their farms to The Highland Group who said they planned to establish a large-scale factory potato farm. Some families sold, but several, who had farmed this land for generations, turned down multiple offers.
Before long the true intent and scope of the Highland Group's plans began to emerge. Establishing an industrial potato farming operation was only the first step in a far more aggressive plan by The Highland Group and its parent company, The Baupost Group, a hedge fund headed by investment guru Seth Klarman, to create a 2,300 acre aggregate mega-quarry.
In addition to concerns about the proposed quarry’s impact on prime agricultural land, there were equally strong concerns about the quarry’s impact on area water quantity and quality when it became known that the quarry would dig two hundred feet below the water table in an area that included the headwaters of four major river systems. Such a plan would require the pumping of 600,000,000 litres of water daily to prevent it from flooding the quarry – an amount that exceeds the combined amount pumped by all Ontario quarries by 60 times and is equivalent to the daily water needs of 2,700,000 Ontarians.
NDACT worked tirelessly, conducting research and sharing information far and wide. With the help of some well research articles by a respected local magazine, In the Hills, they raised awareness amongst local citizens about NDACT, the Mega Quarry and its impact.
Over time, the NDACT group was joined by a diverse and unlikely range of allies who voiced their concern over the mega quarry’s impact the region’s rich land and water resources. Among them: Danny Beaton of the Turtle Clan Mohawks; the David Suzuki Foundation; the Canadian Chefs Congress; and, a range of artists and musicians including Jim Cuddy, Leslie Feist and Sarah Harmer.
NDACT’s highly successful pay-what-you can Foodstock event was hosted in the fall of 2011 in partnership with the Canadian Chefs Congress. An estimated 28,000 urban and rural citizens attended the day-long celebration in the fields of Melancthon, to feast on local fare while raising awareness and funds for the NDACT war chest.
In the Fall of 2012, the chefs congress partnered with the David Suzuki Foundation to host Soupstock, a similar event to Foodstock, in Toronto which attracted a crowd of 40,000. This event continued to generate awareness about the potential impact of the mega quarry and mobilized thousands of people in the effort to protect prime farmland through the celebration and appreciation of local food.
Suddenly in late November of 2012, victory prevailed. The Highland Group unexpectedly announced that it was withdrawing its plan to establish a mega quarry in Melancthon.
As the champions of NDACT cautiously celebrate this unexpected victory (The Highland Group continues to own the land), praise and gratitude for this unlikely band of citizen heroes continues to grow.
A letter written by Marni Walsh in the local community paper says it best. She writes, “On the fertile Honeywood silt loam fields that, until last week were proposed for slaughter, you will find a handful of gentle, unassuming farm families, and their country loving neighbours. Quiet men and women, who stepped far beyond their comfort zones to protect Ontario’s greatest gifts – farm land and water. They sounded the alarm when no one would listen. They lit the flares when they were told it was a ‘done deal.’…This battle was won with hope, and heart, and a relentless voice that would not be stilled. A voice that repeated time and again, ‘This is wrong and we will stop it.’…They lost friends and sleep, money and time, but they spoke the truth, and they rallied a township, a country and a province, to beat a corporation financed by one of the most successful hedge funds in the world. They saved the Headwaters. These folks have reminded us of something incredible: each of us truly does have the power to make a difference.”