Islanders looking to enter into farming face obstacles as they try to produce a yield from their fields, say members of a Vancouver Island Economic Alliance summit panel.
A workshop called Cultivating the Future: The next generation of farming on Vancouver Island took place Wednesday, Oct. 25, at the conference in Nanaimo, with growers discussing modern agricultural issues.
Many farmers are retiring, being replaced by newcomers to the industry, said Darren Stott, moderator and consultant with Greenchain Consulting, citing statistics from the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture.
“Fifty per cent are first-generation farmers, forty per cent farming as their second career,” he said. “This is B.C. farmers, but from discussions we’ve been having it’s very representative of Vancouver Island. I think there’s a lot of Vancouver Island farmers who filled out the survey.”
Mean yearly revenue is $60,000, noted Stott, but 50 per cent report between $5,000 and $50,000, with those farmers taking half of that or less for their actual income.
Katie Underwood, panelist and owner of Peas n’ Carrots Farm in Saanich, said a major issue relates to land access.
“There’s incubator farms in our area, or opportunities on small parcels of private land to operate a small business, but there’s a lot of people who do grow out of those small spaces and still want to continue in the community, however can’t because of wanting to scale up their business,” she said. “We’re finding that there are a lot of people, roughly 30-40 years old, wanting to make these decisions for themselves in their lives and just trying to find a place to be able to do that makes [it] really, really difficult.”
Underwood said there are a number of well-established farms in her community, providing a good opportunity to “see if you could weasel your way into a small parcel of land.” She is noticing there are younger people wanting to enter farming, but it’s “getting their feet on the ground for leases longer than five years, seems to be where there’s the issue.”
Stott said he has seen locally produced food grow in popularity in the three decades he has been in the business.
“Twenty years ago, I was trying to convince lots of people to buy local food and now, we don’t need to do that,” he said. “Now our problem is producing enough local food because the demand is outstripping supply, in particular here on Vancouver Island. This is a very exciting place.”