With the Sandown lands behind her, Jennifer Rashleigh of the Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture says she cannot wait to help turn the former horse racing track into a showcase of modern agricultural practices, calling it an “agricultural-focused community centre.” (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

North Saanich’s Sandown lands to become ‘agricultural-focused community centre’

North Saanich will consider lease with Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture this month

The search for a long-term operator of the Sandown lands in North Saanich could conclude later this month with a lease agreement between the municipality and Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture (SCRA).

“It’s incredibly exciting and this is exactly what we need for agriculture right now, for climate change, for our insecure food supply system, for healing, for igniting curiosity, for COVID-19, for having outdoor places for us to come together in safe ways and still connect,” said Jennifer Rashleigh of SCRA.

North Saanich had chosen SCRA, along with Gobind Farms, to submit final proposals for the long-term operation of the lands, the site of a former horse race track, following a long selection process that had officially started in the fall of 2019 when six interested parties submitted their proposals for the municipally owned land. Other options before council included selling the lot or keeping it for the time being.

Council eventually chose SCRA as the preferred option in May following a narrow vote with opposition from Couns. Jack McClintock, Brett Smyth and Murray Weisenberger, while responding to last-minute interest from Tseycum First Nation.

Following additional discussions, councillors last month tasked staff to draft a lease agreement with SCRA with Couns. Heather Gartshore, Patricia Pearson, and Celia Stock joining Mayor Geoff Orr in support. Council will consider its details at its regular meeting Sept. 14.

Perhaps central to SCRA’s successful pitch is the idea of turning the Sandown lands into an “agricultural-focused community centre” as Rashleigh called it.

RELATED: North Saanich whittles down search for farmland operator to two

“This is a centre for teaching and learning and community engagement,” she said.

SCRA’s proposal parcels the land into a mix of commercial, educational and scientific uses centred on the idea of regenerative agriculture which SCRA describes as farming and grazing practices that reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity.

“This is going to be a living laboratory for that,” she said.

Key partners in the centre include local agro-business Fickle Fig, which will use the site as a grazing area for its animals; Haliburton Community Organic Farm; the University of Victoria through its ecological restoration program; and Kwantlen’s Institute for Sustainable Food Systems, said Rasleigh.

Using the land, these and other partners will see the SCRA showcase what she calls the “next generation of evolving farming practices” in Canada, offering “incubator plots” as well agricultural education and programs. “It’s tough being a farmer,” she said. “The number of farmers under 35 is plummeting. There is a growing local food movement and there is a real hunger for a robust local food economy. We are going to have that here.”

Support for SCRA around the council table and for that matter the community is not unanimous. Questions around the best use for the lands have swirled around the municipality for years and current critics of SCRA have scrutinized its financial plans, a theme likely to re-emerge later this month when staff present the lease to council for review. It currently calls for a 10-year term with North Saanich offering subsidies for the first three years.

Orr acknowledged that support for the group is not unanimous, adding that concerns about financing would exist “regardless” of who is undertaking this.

Orr said supporters like himself are also concerned about the district’s financial investment, but there are “a little more inclined to be in favour of the community aspect” of the proposal.

RELATED: North Saanich extends search for Sandown operator after only one credible proposal

RELATED: North Saanich looks for operator for Sandown lands

Rashleigh acknowledged the financial concerns expressed by the likes of Coun. Brett Smyth, perhaps the most vocal scrutineer of the group’s finances.

“Certainly, the plan is that this is not going to be a permanently subsidized farm,” she said.

Orr said North Saanich’s overall intent behind the search for a long-term operator has been to return the site to agricultural use, and SCRA’s proposal “to a large extent is moving in the right direction” with some details still to be worked out.

SCRA has certainly developed a significant number of partnerships, he said. “That gives us a foothold and a base to work from. It’s a positive step forward.”

Orr also predicted that a “lot of eyes” will be looking at SCRA to see if it is successful.

Equally uncertain is what, if any role, Tseycum First Nation will play on the land.

“We don’t want to ignore that dialogue,” said Orr.

Rashleigh wants to keep lines of communication open, but cannot wait to get going.

“People call it Utopian, but I have done this on a small scale in Vancouver for the last 12 years and I know what it looks like in practice,” she said. “It is just going to be lovely.”‘It only furthers the perception that it is going to fail.”


Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

wolfgang.depner@peninsulanewsreview.com

Saanich Peninsula

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

West Shore Rotary Club raises $20,000 with Golf Ball Drop fundraiser

Nearly 4,000 golf balls poured onto Olympic View golf course Saturday

Construction slows weekend traffic at Millstream overpass

West Shore RCMP recommend Leigh Road exit instead

TRAFFIC: Saanich emergency crews responding to Pat Bay Highway collision

Incident took place at Haliburton Road intersection

Saanich race car driver shifts gears as pandemic cuts U.S. season short

Bill Okell, 65, sets sights on Canadian racing circuit for 2020

Chorus expands online options to in-person rehearsal in Langford, Oak Bay

Free, non-auditioned SingYourJoy recruits those aged 16 to 29

B.C. records 98 more COVID-19 cases, most in Lower Mainland

One new senior home outbreak, Surrey Memorial outbreak over

POLL: Do you agree with the decision to call a provincial election for Oct. 24?

British Columbians will put their social distancing skills to the test when… Continue reading

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Vancouver Island Tour de Rock riders roll into Parksville Qualicum Beach

Saturday’s schedule includes Port Alberni, Ucluelet and Tofino, followed by Nanaimo on Sunday

97 distressed horses, cats and dogs seized from farm in Princeton

RCMP assisted as BC SPCA executed search warrant

$250K reward offered as investigation continues into Sea to Sky Gondola vandalism

Police also asking for specific footage of Sea to Sky highway around time of incident

Trudeau ‘disappointed’ by RCMP treatment of Sikh officers over mask issue

World Sikh Organization of Canada said taking Sikh officers off the front lines constitutes discrimination

Most Read