A regional food and agriculture security system could be on the horizon for Greater Victoria.
The CRD is asking its municipal partners to provide feedback and assess available public land for a regional foodlands trust that would secure space for food creation and agricultural use.
Talk of farmland protection follows a larger increase in the cost of Vancouver Island land more than anywhere else in B.C. At $100,000 per acre – the region’s land costs have gone up 25 per cent in just two years.
The CRD says the foodlands trust would provide a new generation of farmers access to farmland and in theory, secure food production into the future.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said UVic Ethnobotany PhD candidate Fiona Hamersley Chambers, who owns and operates Metchosin Farms, a local seed producer.
“The reality of the market forces is that farmland has become…so expensive here you simply can’t afford to farm,” she said. “If you’re a young farmer starting out or even a more mature farmer who doesn’t have their own land, getting access to land is really challenging.”
Hamersley Chambers said there is strong, historic farmland in South Vancouver Island, but some of it might currently be hidden beneath parks or trails.
“A lot of these park areas we now use for dog walking, those could be some of our best agricultural land.”
The Regional Foodlands Access Program Feasibility Study, which informed the CRD’s decision to move forward, says only seven per cent of the CRD area is protected by the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) – and only 50 per cent of that is currently in production.
With the regional population expected to increase by 27 per cent by 2038, the study says growth could put pressure on already dwindling farmland.
The Regional Foodlands Access Program Feasibility Study says that although the ALR has helped to prevent the further loss of farmland, “there is a need for further action to ensure farmland is used for its intended purpose.”
The study recommends targeting existing public lands first to avoid the need for land acquisition and clarifies that the trust isn’t a financial investment, but an investment in the community to provide regional food security, partnerships, land preservation, job creation, education and more.
Saanich, Central Saanich, North Saanich and Sidney have all previously written letters of support for the program.
Hamersley Chambers predicts that seeds will become an important part of the conversation around food security.
“I don’t think it should just be about growing the produce, I think it should be about growing our own seeds,” she said. “If you’re really looking at food security, you need to look at where your inputs are coming from.”