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Vol.102 Issue 11

November 2016 1.pdf


Food security depends on saving BC’s farmland
[Nathalie Chambers]

Many people don’t know that BC, a world renowned hot spot of marine and biological diversity with some of the best growing conditions in Canada, is food insecure. In fact, it’s the most food insecure province in the country, with the highest use of food box programs in Canada. Even the rocky provinces of New Brunswick and Newfoundland are more food secure.

You might be starting to get suspicious. How can the most biodiverse province be food insecure?

The largest obstacle to food security in BC is the price of farmland. Speculators value farmland as residential real estate, putting it out of reach of most farmers. This market failure adds to our collective food insecurity and denies farmers access to the land. This opens up these irreplaceable lands to non-farm uses.

The second major obstacle to food security is the industrialization of farmland. Allowing non-permitted industrial uses to continue on farmland pollutes soils and watersheds and further inflates the price of farmland.

Humans are not the only benefactor of farmland we need to consider. There are over 450 species of native bees in British Columbia, including 35 to 40 species of bumble bees. The rusty-patched bumble bee is the first bee to make a federal endangered species list in North America. These pollinators are essential to agriculture, pollinating 35% of the food most prominent in the human diet.

The last remaining high-value conservation lands in BC – wildlife corridors, watersheds and endangered ecosystems – all run through farmland. If we are not protecting these values, ecosystems will suffer. Birds, bees and frogs depend on these lands.

The Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) manages the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). The commission regulates land uses on around 4.7 million hectares of our farmland; its basis is a piece of legislation whose original vision was that of a land trust.

Lands within the ALR were to be increased by 30% to accommodate a growing population. Sadly, this has never occurred.

Supporters of the ALR argue it has slowed the loss of farmland. However, the success of the ALR may look good on paper, with no large losses, but not all soil is created equal. Soils taken from the south and added to north do not represent a fair deal.

Since the inception of the ALR, southern BC, the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and the Okanagan – arguably home to the best farmland, with the best climate in Canada – has experienced a net loss of more than 35,000 hectares. In 2014, in spite of massive opposition, our current government was successful in dismantling the ALR. The reserve was broken up into northern and southern sections with more relaxed regulations in the north to allow oil and gas development on farmland easier. The Site C dam project being championed by our current government will see 30,000 acres of fertile farmland on the Peace River flooded for a project that opponents argue we do not need. We’ll lose land that could feed a million people. We’ll lose a significant cultural area and wildlife habitat for grizzlies and wolves.

Who should you call when you notice industrial vehicles and non-permitted uses on farmland? On the ALC website, it lists all of the permitted uses on farmland, and has complaint forms. This process is overwhelmed, under-financed and has limited enforcement officers to monitor all of BC.

In the Blenkinsop Valley, on the Saanich Peninsula, however, the Farmland Protection Coalition [] has found success in addressing the parking of industrial vehicles on farmland in an unlikely place: the finance department. Business licenses issued by municipal governments have weight restrictions. Violators can be fined and re-issue can be halted.

Municipal and regional governments are also stepping up to create farmland trusts to protect farmland by using tax dollars to acquire farmland, then lease it back to farmers.

We must remain vigilant. Monitoring is difficult to do from an office and requires support from the public. If we all work together, we can create food security in BC. Future generations are counting on us.

Nathalie Chambers is a restoration ecologist and co-author of Saving Farmland; the fight for real food. She and her husband, David, operate the 27 acre Madrona Farm in Saanich and grow 106 varieties of organic produce, supplying up to 4000 customers and 15 restaurants 12 months a year. Madrona Farm is protected by The Land Conservancy of BC.