With the mounting interest in growing local food production, there are many initiatives underway to revitalize agriculture in Saanich.
The Tod Creek Flats project is one such initiative on approximately 60 acres that lies behind the Red Barn Market on West Saanich Road. It is currently owned by four landowners who are interested in bringing it back into production after many years of sitting fallow.
The Flats was originally a peat bog and very productive for the Tsartlip First Nations who gathered food and other materials there. By 1860 settlers had drained the land in preparation for farming in the European manner.
For over 150 years the land supported livestock and food production with the Sisters of St. Ann growing the vegetables used in St. Joseph’s Hospital and St. Ann’s Academy over 50 of those years.
Mary Haig Brown is one of a team of volunteers who are working to bring this land back into production with the landowners.
“Over the years the level of the peat soil subsided due to oxidation and erosion. The water-free growing season grew shorter and shorter until about a decade ago it was impossible to get 100 water-free growing days and the land became fallow,” she said.
In 2008 they started the long process of finding ways to bring back farming while at the same time considering the ecological values of the Flats. With the help of a grant from the B.C. government, the District of Saanich worked with the landowners to develop a management plan.
The goals of the plan were: to improve the land for agriculture; to maintain the volume of the flood plain; and to enhance the environmental values of the land for the benefit of fish and other wildlife.
Peninsula Streams Society in partnership with the Friends of Tod Creek Watershed secured a grant from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and with this support and much volunteer labour they were able to start work on the land. They have created a berm at the level designated by Saanich in order for flood water to overtop the berm when needed.
They also built a channel parallel to Tod Creek and cleared debris of old beaver dams and overgrown willows. A channel was created with three return passages so fish can easily access the Flats for winter habitat and then return to the creek when water levels drop in the spring.
“We are now at the exciting point where we are ready to start farming the land again” said Brown. “Because it has been fallow for many years and because it is such great fish habitat, we are looking for suitable crops to grow in 100 days without the use of chemicals, most likely grains and vegetables.”
There will be challenges due to the nature of this land, but it’s exciting to think about the many people that it could feed as well as the new farmers who are currently looking for land the Flats could support.
It seems there is good possibility of realizing this opportunity with over 70 farmers in the region currently seeking land, and with the landowners open to getting this land into production. The next steps will be to look at exactly how this might happen.
Linda Geggie is the executive director with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.