SODA CREEK—Puddle Produce Farm owner and operator Brianna van de Wijngaard partnered with Young Agrarians to host the first Cariboo land social on August 11. The event included a farm tour, potluck social and a discussion of farming on leased land. The gathering was designed to provide an overview of the Young Agrarians’ land matching program which recently hired Jolene Swain to oversee its work in central and northern BC. Twelve attendees from different backgrounds made the trip out to the farm.
Van de Wijngaard’s farm is situated on a 74-acre property on the lower benches above the Fraser River. Starting as an urban farmer in Williams Lake in 2013, she originally leased small residential plots in exchange for veggies, but the business needed a location to grow into. She relocated to Soda Creek in 2016.
“[It] wasn’t so much the cost of land that was prohibitive, it was finding the right place,” she says of her experience. “It took time. Places that were for sale just weren’t right; finding a good fit was the difficult part. If anyone was looking for land, I would certainly recommend that they look at the leasing option because that just opens up so many more doors for you as far as finding a suitable piece of property.”
Van de Wijngaard found an ally through word of mouth in property owner Ric Dürfeld. Dürfeld’s property was previously a market garden and had the infrastructure van de Wijngaard needed. Dürfeld and van de Wijngaard came to an agreement that would allow Puddle Produce Farm to operate under a long-term lease.
Although the land matching program did not exist in the area at the time, van de Wijngaard and Dürfeld consulted with Young Agrarians provincial land matcher Darcy Smith who advised them about the process and provided a lease agreement template.
“Young Agrarians helped us identify the intent and small details we didn’t think of,” says Dürfeld. “It’s important there is a good understanding. We have an agreement that if not everything is written in, we still have a good path forward to make sure that there is a continued respectful understanding and sharing.”
Van de Wijngaard agrees.
“Our agreement laid out in detail how we would approach infrastructure additions or anything added to the property. When you first move to a place you think about how you will set it up so that it’s not permanent,” she says. “Beyond that, I didn’t really know how to negotiate those kinds of things. It helped me to know what my responsibilities were going forward with regards to any investments I would make, how to handle that and how to discuss it with the land owner.”
Soda Creek is known for being a productive growing area and van de Wijngaard has built a hugely productive farm on 1.5 acres in the three years she has leased the site from Dürfeld. She grows a mix of vegetables and microgreens and is transitioning the farm to organic production. Van de Wijngaard runs her 40-plus member CSA box program, farmers market and retail sales operation with two additional seasonal gardeners.
Young Agrarians have done a tremendous amount of work to match farmers with landowners. The event at Puddle Produce Farm is one of several similar events around the province. Swain hopes to add to the growing list of those interested in land matching. Socials such as the one in Soda Creek help show how the process could work and lets those interested know where to turn for support.
Many new entrants to farming find leasing attractive, because it requires a smaller financial commitment than purchasing land, especially given that BC has some of the most expensive farmland in Canada. Meanwhile, landowners are looking for opportunities to keep land in production while navigating the challenges of retirement, succession and diversification.
“There is just such great value in land that can provide food,” says Dürfeld, who remembers Sunday drives out to Soda Creek as a kid. “When we grew up, most of the houses had a backyard with a big vegetable garden. If it was flat enough in the winter, it was the skating rink. Those same back alleys now are full of RVs and toys. Our lifestyles and focus in life has changed. It is important not just for young people, but for people who understand those values to share and try to maintain the integrity of some of this amazing land that we are a part of.”