A suite of bills passed before the fall sitting of the legislature that wrapped up at the end of November stands to increase the pressure on unprotected urban farmland.
The new legislation upzones every residential property in the province and gives the lieutenant governor discretion to mandate higher densities along rapid transit routes. Unprotected farmland in cities of 5,000 people and up could face renewed development pressure as the province seeks to address the persistent housing crisis.
One example of agriculture perched on the horns of the dilemma is Nanaimo’s historic Five Acres Farm. The city bought the land in 2019 to save it from development. For the last seven years, Growing Opportunities Farm Community Co-operative and Nanaimo Foodshare have jointly managed the property.
But in August 2022, the City of Nanaimo held its first community engagement event to gather input on potential plans for the city-owned farm. The second phase of engagement began this summer. A community survey collected 796 responses through November 3, which staff will collect and analyze together with feedback from a public open house.
“An engagement summary will be completed and presented to council along with a staff report and revised draft Park Avenue Concept Plan,” the city says. A project implementation date hasn’t been set.
The city’s five possible options for the site include using up to two acres of the site for affordable housing, protecting wetlands on the site but leaving scant room for the existing urban farm. The options also include leaving the property as is.
The site has been a renowned food security hub and host of educational programs, work experience opportunities, variety trials, markets and a Good Food Box program.
“The city purchased the land and they’re going through their regular process of community engagement to determine the best use of it,” says Nanaimo Foodshare Society executive director Paula Masyk. “There are other groups who have strong feelings about what they think should be the best use of it. Either way, we are just happy to be able to use a portion of it to be delivering our food security programs on.”
A Facebook group called Save Five Acres Farm Harewood has garnered over 1,600 likes and 1,800 followers. Many site advocates in the group support the continued use of the land as a community farm.
“The significance for the vision of this property was that it is a ‘Five Acre Farm’ — not a one-acre farm and housing development. It is a green space that reminds us of an enlightened past, where people were encouraged to be self sustainable,” Harewood resident Roblyn Hunter posted. “The history, the education around food security, the agricultural production, the community connections, the much-needed green space in an area of intense housing development, are all reasons I can think of why we must protect the integrity of this property. Housing is important but not our only priority. We need quality of life, not only a roof over our heads.”