A new report proposing a farmland trust in the region looks to change the perception of “dog and stick farms” in Saanich and restore the value of agriculturally viable land.
Since 2012, the Capital Regional Food and Agricultural Initiatives Roundtable (CR-FAIR) has stood by its findings that half of the region’s agriculturally zoned farmland, including Saanich and the peninsula, is going unused. And with food security recognized as an increasing threat to the Island’s population, the movement to create a local farmland trust has been discussed in Saanich for years. In 2014, council approved the Environmental and Natural Areas committee recommendation to study farmland trusts.
The creation of a farmland trust is overdue, and needs to happen immediately, says author, farmer and restoration ecologist Nathalie Chambers of Madrona Farm in the Blenkinsop Valley.
“In Saanich the largest obstacle to food security is the price of farmland, second only to the industrialization of farmland and its degradation,” said Chambers, an activist for the preservation of farmland. “We also cannot afford to lose any industrial zoning and must ensure there is an affordable industrial park to avoid the industrial use of farmland.”
On Dec. 12, Saanich council received a report from a committee that worked with Saanich and CR-FAIR to review various models of farmland trusts, with a goal of one day creating one in Saanich. Council supported it, and staff quickly turned the report around and submitted it for the CRD board meeting two days later.
At that board meeting on Dec. 14, CRD approved a regional food and agriculture strategy that provides recommendations for addressing the biggest challenges for local agriculture and food production.
That includes the creation of a task force to further explore a farmland trust (or land bank) among other crucial issues.
“[Too often] we see ‘dog and stick farms’ with no use of land but with mega-sized houses on them,” said Larry Bomford, a Saanich resident and former agricultural policy maker with the provincial government who spoke at the Dec. 12 meeting.
In brief, the recent reports highlight the issues which threaten long-term viability of farming and overall farmland productivity in the CRD.
“It’s a very important initiative for the CRD,” said Coun. Dean Murdock, who chairs the Environmental and Natural Areas committee that helped spur the movement in 2014. “It’s not cost significant, and it’s a significant step in supporting local food security, which is highlighted as a public priority in the CRD.”
In Saanich, Panama Flats is an ideal example of land that could be transferred into a farmland trust and then leased, or rented, to local farmers. It’s a good place to start, said Murdock.
“It would be ideal to put some farmland into practice and demonstrate that the trust can work, and be a success, before you start raising the large-scale funds.”
At this point, a new task force has been formed with the hopes of building a framework for a farmland trust that would work in Saanich and the CRD. There are a lot of factors to consider, Murdock said.
“In some cases farmers on trust land pay a portion of sales, sometimes a lease rate, and in other cases it’s a subsidy for farmers to be there. These are things a task force needs to factor in,” he said.
Local commercial farmers will also have an interest if a new farmer comes in with a subsidy.
For Chambers, putting farmers onto farmland is a great start. She also wants to see an increase in the amount of industrial zoned land as it directly affects the ability to preserve and use farmland.
“We need to create an affordable industrial park in Saanich, not on farmland and not supporting the loss of any more industrially zoned lands.”
The proposed new regional food and agriculture task force includes: Linda Geggie (CF-FAIR), Bob Maxwell (Peninsula Agriculture Commission), Terry Michell (large scale rural producers), Carol Hall (community initiatives/Victoria Foundation), Finoa Deveraux (Island Health), Sue Hallatt (First Nations), Rob Buchan (North Saanich), Bruce Greig (Central Saanich), Virginie Lavallee-Picard (Victoria), Jane Evans (Saanich), Robin Tunnicliffe (West Shore), Derek Masselink (Ministry of Agriculture).