LOCAL FLAVOUR: CRD weighing support for Food and Farmland Trust

By Linda Geggie

For the Saanich News

Back in the 1980s a slew of lands in the Agriculture Land Reserve (ALR) were permitted to be converted into golf courses. The reasoning at that time was that if golf courses would not adversely impact the capability of that land for food production and could be returned to agriculture. Well we have hit a time when golf courses are no longer the ventures they used to be and many are coming up for sale and changing hands to developers with other ideas besides agriculture in mind. Recently we have seen the Prospect Lake Golf Course, Ardmore, and Glen Meadows go up for sale or wind down operations.

The current application for development of the Royal Oak Golf Course is another one of these situations. The golf course has closed, and within its 27 acres, 23.5 are in the ALR. I was recently at an event in Saanich focused on farmlands where Harold Steves, one of the founders of the ALR and longtime Richmond city councillor, talked about this history and the current continued loss of farmland. “Death by a thousand cuts” is how it has been described.

Many would say that there is no way that the Royal Oak golf course, a little piece of land surrounded by park and development, could be a viable farm. When the development proposal was brought for comment to the Peninsula and Area Agriculture Committee there were varying views on what needed to be considered. Many of the farmers pointed to the fact that in this region agriculture happens on very small lots close to ready urban markets. The concern of conflicts between the neighbours and having a farm next door was, it was pointed out, what most farmers are contenting with these days in our region. The main concern of the PAAC commissioners was around the soil quality of the lands. They withheld their opinion on the proposed removal of the lands from the ALR until such a study was conducted so there could be a proper assessment of the productive potential of the lands. A few commissioners pointed to the fact that soil quality is not even such a factor when we are talking about small plot intensive food growing and greenhouses. Most land can be made productive, and generally smaller mixed vegetable farms are the most profitable now reportedly generating between $40,000 and $60,000 an acre.

As pressure on farmland continues to grow through need for industrial, commercial lands and housing, we will not see a change in this trend of working to pull rural farmland and land in the ALR to other uses. With the majority of people believing some level of food self-reliance is important today and for the future; there has been a lot of work done to look at ways to address this steady attrition of land.

Landowners leasing land to farmers is on the rise, and becoming the norm rather than the exception in British Columbia. The challenge of no long term security with this arrangement stifles important investment that is needed for highly productive farms (putting in infrastructure like fencing, greenhouses, and buildings).

In September the CRD is going to review a report that was recently completed at the direction of the Regional Food and Agriculture Committee. It is called the Regional Food Lands Improvement Feasibility Study and Business Case. In a nutshell, this report looks at different approaches that can be taken to support food and farmland access.

The study particularly looks at the development of a CRD bank of food and farmlands. As a starting point this would identify how farmland that is already owned by the CRD could be put into a land bank that would be made accessible to farmers through long term stable leases or organizations that support community food production. Additional land could be put into this land bank over time to secure food and farmland in the region in perpetuity.

As over 50 per cent of our farmers will retire in the next decade we are going to see a huge shift in land ownership. Will we see these valuable lands that have been stewarded for food production over time sold to folks who like the rural landscape and build large homes? Or will we find ways to keep this land in farming? Could a visionary regional land bank be an answer? Local governments protect our watersheds and also invest in affordable housing. Is the pressure so great on land that we need to consider food and farmlands as well? Last year Saanich mayor and council agreed that this was worth pursuing and took it to the CRD to consider a regional approach. What do you think?

You can learn more about this proposed food and farmland trust on CRFAIR’s website under food and farmland initiatives (www.crfair.ca). The CRD directors will be looking to you to determine how they should vote on moving forward the regional Food and Farmland Trust. There are dissenting directors who are not sure if food security is an issue, or if farming is viable, or feel the market should decide what land is used for. What do you think?

CRD directors need to know the level of support CRD residents have for the Regional Food and Farmland Trust proposal. It will be at the Planning and Protective Service Committee meeting the third week in September You can either present in person to the committee by signing up on the CRD website or write a letter to the CRD Board, directing it to the chair of the Planning and Protective Services Committee Ken Williams and your CRD directors at www.crd.bc.ca/about/who-we-are/board-of-directors. Click on the link “email the board”.

Linda Geggie is the executive director with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable and can be reached at lgeggie@crfair.ca.

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