The operators of Madrona Farm are seeking answers to what they believe is a high degree of insidious industrialization in the Blenkinsop Valley.
David and Nathalie Chambers have farmed the 10-hectare Madrona property since it was purchased after a successful 2002 campaign by The Land Conservancy.
Since then, Madrona and other farms along Blenkinsop Road have increasingly come under threat by non-permitted uses of land designated as Agricultural Land Reserve, uses that should be enforced under the protection of the Agricultural Land Commission, said Nathalie Chambers.
“I’ve called councillors, the mayor and bylaw officers and the complaint-based system isn’t working,” she said.
The author of the 2015 book Saving Farmland: The fight for real food, is invested in protecting food-producing land. To see a tract of the most fertile land in Canada threatened by industrial usage has her wondering why Saanich isn’t standing behind its 1977 designation as an agricultural greenway.
Current misuses of farmland start with a neighbouring property to Madrona, where the Chambers have witnessed multiple tree service trucks parked, and where numerous loads of tree chipping waste have been dumped, Chambers said.
“This part of Blenkinsop is incredible for growing, and it got this way after thousands of years of nurturing by the First Nations.”
Anything beyond parking a work truck, used by the homeowner or tenant, is a non-permitted use, said Thomas Loo, a former ALC compliance officer who left in 2013 after six years.
However, that property is not under ALC responsibility, said Kim Grout, the new CEO of the ALC.
“That had been a complaint investigated but the property had a separate independent title [applied] in 1943, so it’s actually exempt from regulations,” Grout said.
Therefore, it’s up to Saanich to regulate it.
However, it goes much beyond that, Chambers said, with eight different “parking lots” in use along the Blenkinsop Valley. It’s a trend already happening in B.C., where farmland is a cheap option where industrial zoned land is either unavailable or more expensive.
During Loo’s time as a compliance officer with the ALC he saw about 50 cases of ALR properties in Surrey using ALR land to park commercial trucks. The small farms would rent land to the truckers, and in the end, some or most are still there, he said.
The main problem Chambers has encountered, as there are numerous other infringements she’s tried to bring awareness to, is that the public feels unsafe to make complaints.
“People get angry, people yell at you, and we need a positive vision, but what we have is widespread bylaw infringement,” Chambers said.