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

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

Local agriculture can drive economic development

Study shows that ALR land near urban areas can generate between $30,000 to $50,000 per acre

Linda Geggie

For the Saanich News

Recently Larry Kimmett gave a provocative talk to the members of the Peninsula and Area Agriculture Commission. He asked the question “Can local agriculture drive economic development? Larry co-ordinates an online magazine about local food in B.C., BCfarmsandfood.com. This was the topic of one of his recent articles that specifically related information about a comprehensive study released by the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at Kwantlen University which delivered a definitive answer: local agriculture can be a major driver of economic development.

In 2010 the City of Surrey commissioned the institute to assess specific ways to increase agricultural use of Surrey’s Agricultural Land Reserve. If underutilized ALR land were turned into small-scale agriculture, how much additional food could be produced? What kind of economic development would result? How much money and how much employment would be generated?

Surrey, a city of 525,000 people, sits in the Lower Mainland. Encompassing 78,000 acres of fertile Fraser River Valley land, it enjoys some of the best climatic and soil conditions in all of Canada. Currently, Surrey is home to a diversified agriculture that includes berries, vegetables, dairy, beef, poultry and numerous greenhouse operations.

In 1973, the Agricultural Land Commission Act created protected agricultural lands known as the Agricultural Land Reserve throughout the province. The act placed approximately one-quarter (21,470 acres) of Surrey’s total land area into the land reserve.

Using conservative criteria, aerial photographs, visual inspections and careful field work, the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems determined that 3,300 acres, or 15 per cent, of Surrey’s total ALR could successfully be used for small-scale farming. The researchers then applied existing successful small-scale agricultural models to determine what this program could produce for Surrey.

The results were dramatic. The models demonstrated that if this underutilized ALR land were brought into small-scale agricultural production, it could satisfy 100 per cent of Surrey’s consumption of 27 vegetables, fruits and animal products for six months of the year. The 27 crops include potatoes, eggs, apples, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, cucumbers, table grapes and more. This new production could contribute over $183 million to Surrey’s economy and create as many as 1,600 new full-time equivalent jobs.

The Surrey ALR study showed that each acre of farmable ALR land dedicated to small-scale, human intensive, direct market agriculture near urban areas can generate between $30,000 to $50,000 per acre.

Additionally using only 15 per cent of the ALR in this way could make Surrey’s 525,000 people self sufficient in 27 vegetables and fruits for six months of the year. The Saanich ALR is 4,557 acres. If 15 per cent or 700 acres of the Saanich ALR were farmed as outlined in the study, we could generate $30 million a year, create 300-400 jobs, and make Saanich’s 114,000 people self sufficient in a similar spread of 27 vegetables and fruits for six months of the year. What would it take to make this happen and what are we waiting for? Let’s get growing.

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