SALT SPRING ISLAND—BC Parks is looking for a farm manager for Ruckle Farm on Salt Spring Island through a competitive bid process, after assuming full responsibility for the 200-acre working farm within Ruckle Provincial Park.
The farm was managed privately in a life legacy agreement between BC Parks and the Ruckle family, which sold the 1,200-acre property on Beaver Point to the province in 1972 but retained tenure of the farm until the passing of the last Ruckle family member last year.
For almost 30 years, the farm was managed by Mike Lane for the Ruckle family. Lane maintained the gardens for the houses on the farm, tended the orchards, raised livestock, harvested hay and hosted Ruckle Farm Days, an annual community open house on the property.
Lane continues to operate the farm and live there under a park use permit issued after the life legacy arrangement with the province ended. He’s permitted to stay until the end of 2020. The new farm manager is expected to begin January 1, 2021.
Lane is one of three interested parties considering the farm operator contract.
According to BC Parks, the request for proposal (RFP) process aims to be a fair, open and transparent bidding opportunity per government procurement policies.
The contract term is for 20 years. BC Parks says the length is longer than is typical, but is considered necessary due to the unique nature of the park and the requirements to care for and run it. The 20-year term accommodates necessary investment while allowing for a financially sustainable farm operation that will enhance protection of the park’s heritage value. The only other BC Parks operating contract with a term 20 years in length or greater is Mt. Assiniboine Park.
The Ruckles were well known for their stewardship of the land. Gordon Ruckle has been quoted as saying, “You can’t own the land; you can only preserve it for future generations.” A “gentlemen’s agreement” between the Ruckle family and the province prevented any development that would conflict with farming operations, although the province has long anticipated changes once it acquired full control of the property.
However, BC Parks has indicated an added interest in the economic viability of the operation and is looking for ideas that will not financially depend on the government. These include proposals that “consider new products, experiences, business models and enterprises that allow long-term viability of a profitable operation.”
Ruckle Farm is credited as the oldest working farm in BC operated by the original family. It was begun in the 1870s. According to BC Parks, it is the only farm operating within a BC provincial park. Its appeal has been its beauty and authenticity, following the traditions of farming in the Gulf Islands.
The Salt Spring Island Agricultural Alliance acknowledges the community’s strong relationship with the farm, and its alignment with the Salt Spring area farm plan and the Ruckle Park management plan.
“Mike Lane supported the Ruckle family, which allowed them to live on the farm, including Helen Ruckle in her later years, which allowed her to use her house on the farm and maintain a garden there and to continue to live as they had,” says alliance president Tony Beck.
Lane and his wife Marjorie collaborate with Salt Spring Island Farmers’ Institute on Heritage Day and the fall fair on behalf of Ruckle Farm. Lane has taught sheep raising and condition scoring workshops at the farm for the Salt Spring Island Abattoir Society, and has held farm-to-table lamb dinners as fundraisers for the agricultural alliance.
Lane is also a board member of the abattoir society and mentors young farmers from the Gulf Islands and around the world.
Dan Jason of Salt Spring Seeds has collaborated with Lane to plant heritage beans at Ruckle Farm for the Seed Sanctuary project. Varieties include the Ruckle bean. The beans are also used at bean suppers in the community and the food bank run by Salt Spring Island Community Services.
“Mike Lane has been awesome for all the years he has been there, creating a beautiful, productive farm,” says Jason. “I am not sure what BC Parks wants. It would be a shame if they brought in someone else.”
The closing date for proposals is September 2, and the province hopes to sign an agreement with the new farm manager by October 18.