How We Can Regrow Sustainable Agriculture in BC

Investing in British Columbia’s Food Security

by BC Farms & Food  -  Permalink
October 22, 2018

British Columbia is facing an agricultural crisis. Sixty percent of farmers in BC are over age 55, and the new young generation of farmers cannot take over.

At the same time as baby boom era farmers are retiring, speculation has driven the price of farmland higher than the ability of new farmers to buy it. Unless we find a way to make most of the farmland in the Agricultural Land Reserve affordable, and to grow enough food on it, we can expect to permanently rely on imports to feed ourselves. Two recent projects suggest a way forward for BC.

Farmland in BC. How We Can Regrow Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security in BC.

Farm Succession at a Standstill

Only about five percent of BC’s land base is suitable for farming. In the prosperous 1960’s, BC’s small natural heritage of farmland began to disappear under urban sprawl. Alarmed by these patterns, BC’s first NDP government passed the Agricultural Land Act in 1973, which set aside most of BC’s arable land for farming as the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

In the decades that followed, agriculture changed dramatically. Consolidation in food processing, distribution, and marketing increased the power of industrial food corporations and caused a decline in farmers’ market power. Farming, always hard work, became less profitable. Traditional farm families began to see their children migrate to more lucrative and less difficult work. Intergenerational farm succession stalled as families no longer passed their farm businesses on to their children.

At the same time, globalization and deregulation released a tidal wave of international capital, bidding up the price of agriculture land. Today, for example, farmland parcels smaller than five acres in the Metro Vancouver area sell for between $150,000 to $350,000 per acre. According to Farm Credit Canada, farming is no longer financially viable when land prices exceed $80,000 per acre.

As a result, only half of the ALR is currently farmed, and an increasing amount of BC’s farmland is falling into non-farm uses. Meanwhile, new farmers in BC cannot buy farmland on the Agricultural Land Reserve, and BC’s food security is at stake.

According to Farm Credit Canada, farming is no longer financially viable when land prices exceed $80,000 per acre.

James Miskelly at Haliburton Farm. How We Can Regrow Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security in BC.

How to Get New Farmers onto the Land

British Columbia needs to place young farmers on the ALR and get these lands into food production. How can this be accomplished on a scale and in a time frame that will guarantee food security for the province? Although a number of useful public policies can contribute to this invaluable goal, one of the most direct solutions is hiding in plain sight:

The Province could purchase key productive properties of the ALR as they become available, and provide the funds and administrative support necessary to launch a new generation of farmers.

Consider two current projects and a key sustainable farm opportunity for the ALR:

1. Sandown Farm: a Community Farm

Land slated for Sandown Community Farm in North Saanich. How We Can Regrow Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security in BC.

The site of the former Sandown Racetrack in North Saanich, BC will soon become Sandown Community Farm.

Located just north of the Victoria International Airport on Vancouver Island, Sandown is a former 95-acre horse racetrack in the Agricultural Land Reserve. In 2010, the owners, the Randall family, donated 83 acres of the land to the municipality in exchange for a 12-acre strip for commercial use along an adjacent road. After a multi-year community design process, coordination with the Agricultural Land Commission, and land remediation and drainage, the property is being readied for farming.

A non-profit community organization will administer the farm. The new Sandown Community Farm will offer long-term leases for commercial farms, as well as greenhouses, a community garden, a farm market, a farm school, and a shared processing and storage facility.

2. Woodwynn Farms: a Provincial Purchase

Woodwynn Farms in Central Saanich, BC. How We Can Regrow Agriculture and Food Security in BC.

The province’s recent acquisition of Woodwynn Farms demonstrates its ability to purchase farmland for public goals.

Eight kilometres to the south of Sandown, on ALR land in Central Saanich, the province paid $6.9 million dollars to purchase Woodwynn Farms in July 2018. The 193-acre Woodwynn property will be used as a therapeutic recovery farm for those with substance abuse and mental health problems.

This acquisition demonstrates the province’s ability to step in and purchase farmland for public goals. In an alternate scenario, as a straightforward provincial purchase to make ALR land available to new farmers, a 193-acre farm such as this could host 25 new 7-acre organic farms. These farms could operate under long-term arrangements similar to Sandown Community Farm.

Beaver Meadow Farms: A Sustainable Agricultural Opportunity

Near Courtenay, BC in the Comox Valley, Beaver Meadow Farms is currently up for sale. Beaver Meadow, a 582-acre certified organic former dairy, cattle and cranberry farm, has been ecologically cultivated by the Smith family for the last 80 years.

Sign saying, "Welcome to Beaver Meadow Farms: A Certified Organic Farm." How We Can Regrow Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security in BC. The three Smith Brothers are approaching retirement with no immediate heir to the farm. “Beaver Meadow Farms is a certified Heritage Farm where we have carried on the style of farming originated by our grandparents and parents since the 1930’s,” said owner Edgar Smith. “We believe in natural agricultural production systems in sync with nature.” The soils are mostly the best Class 1 and 2 types with no significant limitations for crop production.

The property is currently on the market for $17.5 million dollars. If owned by the Province and ecologically managed by new farmers, Beaver Meadow Farms could continue as a major food producer and salmon habitat, and be a cornerstone of sustainable agriculture in the Comox Valley for generations to come.

A Large Provincial Purchase of ALR Land for Food Security

The farms described above are outstanding individual examples. What could a large provincial purchase of ALR land accomplish?

Fresh farm vegetables for sale. How We Can Regrow Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security in BC.A Kwantlen University study of the potential of the Agricultural Land Reserve in Surrey, BC, a city of half a million people, delivered a definitive answer.

The report demonstrated that if 15 percent of Surrey’s underused ALR land were brought into small-scale agricultural production, it could satisfy the city’s entire need for 27 vegetables, fruits and animal products for six months of the year. Further, this new food production could contribute over $183 million to Surrey’s economy, and create as many as 1,600 new full-time jobs.

Investing in Food Security

British Columbia’s best chance for long-term food security is to establish a new generation of farmers on the Agricultural Land Reserve. High land prices, retiring farmers, the lack of farm succession, and competing land use have combined to prevent this transition from taking place.

BC needs to enact bold new policies that include direct purchase of key Agricultural Land Reserve properties. Provincial purchase of high quality ALR land is a wise investment because the land itself is the collateral, and is continually appreciating in value. More importantly, helping young farmers to practice small- and medium-scale sustainable farming in the ALR is the sure pathway to achieve the vital provincial goal of food security for British Columbia.


More articles:

Why Farmland Protection is Not EnoughWhy Farmland Protection is Not Enough

Who Are the 21st Century Farmers?Who Are the 21st Century Farmers?

4 Responses leave one →
  1. 2019 January 4
    Paul permalink

    Great article, very interesting, thank you!

  2. 2018 October 30
    Bob Maxwell permalink

    A pleasure to read this article, keeps the vision of hope alive. The more excellent articles like this the better. We have to change the mind set that it is too expensive to farm and find ways to make agriculture work for the future. We should remember that people do sell houses in Vancouver and Victoria for millions and then buy a farm, that younger people (<50) do get inheritances and buy a farm, that younger people are often highly paid professionals and business people and have money to buy a farm and then one family partner farms. It is not all doom and gloom.
    Governments buying farmland is an asset for the people province, an environmental asset, climate asset, a water asset, a food asset, and for a long time.

    The more good news stories the better; and get articles like this into waiting rooms like doctor's offices etc.

    very good show...

  3. 2018 October 29
    Glen Oler permalink

    Where does one get financing for farm land and equipment? I am very interested.

  4. 2018 October 24
    Carol Davaidson permalink

    Excellent article and very to the point.

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