The Blenkinsop Valley has some of our best farmland in Saanich and some of our most talented and longstanding farmers. There is a wide range of producers from Morning Fresh Eggs and Galey’s popular Corn Maze to the wide variety of organic products grown and sold at Madrona Farm and many other farms with their roadside stands along Blenkinsop Road.
The micro-climate in the valley produces some of the best growing conditions around. We can be thankful for the sustainable land management techniques employed by the Coast Salish peoples for the fertility in the valley. This includes practices of controlled burning to increase the camas harvest and productivity of berry patches in the early days.
The land was then further cleared and soils stewarded by the early settlers. Farming in the valley included mixed crops, plant nurseries and livestock. Dairy farming was a significant industry in the Blenkinsop Valley, with milk delivery to the City of Victoria starting in the early 1900s.
The Blenkinsop Valley is a definite gem and has been the focus of farmland protection by the District of Saanich over time. However, even though the Urban Containment Boundary (UCB) was put in place in the 1960s and agriculture zoning employed to protect these lands, we are seeing a significant conversion of these lands from farm production to other non-farm uses as of late.
Residents have been seeing the changes in the valley and there is rising concern.
“The valley is becoming a parking lot,” says one farmer who does not want to be named for fear of reprisals from angry neighbours. “The non-farm permitted uses over time were resisted, but now have become tolerated and normalized. The permitted activities are replaced by the non-permitted activities permanently.”
They point to the increase in businesses that are using the land for storage of trucks and other industrial activities.
“If we are going to protect farmland for farming for future generations and diversity of life, we are going to have to get tough. Currently the most powerful tool in the Blenkinsop Valley from industrial and non-permitted use is through the UCB and zoning. Saanich must enforce their bylaws demonstrating their commitments to farmland.”
Some of the most important ways we can do this, they suggest, are to ensure that weight restrictions on trucks in the valley are enforced and to monitor land use through issuing and reviewing business licences in the Blenkinsop Valley.
Farmers at Madrona Farm are also concerned about the long-term impact of some of the activities they see happening in the valley.
“Not only does the industrialization of farmland contaminate soils, pollute riparian areas and destroy wildlife habitat, it also increases its value and prices it out of the range of farmers who are anxious to get their shovels into the soil but are being denied economic access to the land.”
They believe this phenomenon contributes to increasing local food insecurity.
The Farmland Protection Coalition wants people who are concerned to sign a petition asking Mayor Richard Atwell and Saanich council to ensure that the farmland in the Blenkinsop Valley is stewarded today and into the future by enforcing their current bylaws and zoning.
You can find the petition and more information at www.farmlandprotection.ca.
Linda Geggie is the executive director with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.