Second-grader wins “I (heart) Greenbelt” contest

Artwork from a west Toronto second-grader has won a contest for the design of Ontario’s new “I (heart) Greenbelt” awards.

The entry from Esha Patel, a student at Highfield Junior School, won the online votes of Ontarians among four finalists chosen from hundreds of entries in a provincial contest.

The contest, announced in February, was the launch for the “I (heart) Greenbelt” awards, a program intended to recognize those who have “contributed significantly to supporting a strong and viable Greenbelt.”

The categories and nomination process for the awards are to be finalized later this summer, the province said in a release Monday.

The Greenbelt is the zone of permanent protection for 1.8 million acres of farmland and other “environmentally sensitive” land around southern Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe.

“Through this art contest, Ontario’s young people have showed how the Greenbelt provides us with clean air and water, great food for our tables and healthy outdoor recreation,” Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson said Monday.

The province occasionally cites research showing that the Greenbelt provides “essential ecosystem services or benefits” for eight million residents across the Golden Horseshoe, to which it puts a value of “at least $2.6 billion each year.”

Greenbelt designation ostensibly protects farmland from development, but farmers have been wary about provincial proposals to expand the Greenbelt zone, as they own most of the land in question.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture for years has asked the government to address issues such as wildlife predation of livestock, trespassing, crop damage and the issue of compensation for “ecological goods and services” which farmers cover out-of-pocket.

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