Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable

Photo: Saanich farmland.

To create a farmland trust framework for BC; establish a local government supported land trust in the Capital Region as a case study.

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British Columbians love local food. Farmers’ markets are expanding and multiplying, community gardens and kitchens are growing, and retailers are offering more fresh foods from BC farmers.

However, with development pressure from cities, southern BC is one of the most expensive places to purchase farmland in Canada. Many farmers are reaching retirement age and young farmers are quick to identify high land costs as a major barrier to purchasing or opening a farm.

In BC, the Agricultural Land Reserve is an essential provincial policy that helps to protect farmland and restrict development on food-producing lands. Even with this protection, there is significant development pressure and some of this land is being lost to urban and suburban growth.

To ensure sustainable, continued access to local food, communities must commit to supporting farmers and food producers.

With funding from the Real Estate Foundation of BC, the Capital Region Food and Agricultural Initiatives Roundtable (CRFAIR) began research and planning to develop regional and provincial food and farmland trusts in the Capital Region District around Victoria and Saanich.

A land trust treats land as a public good rather than as a private asset. By acquiring land and holding it in trust, communities in the capital region can preserve agricultural land and ensure that land is always used for food production. This can be accomplished through leases on land, covenants with food producers, land stewardship activities and supports for new and retiring farmers.

CRFAIR partnered with the FarmFolk CityFolk (FFCF) Society to conduct research, build support and gather input from stakeholders. CRFAIR met with municipal and regional stakeholders and FFCF conducted interviews, meetings and roundtables with community organizations, agriculture groups, land trusts and co-op developers to gauge the community’s level of support and to explore possible governance and finance models. REFBC’s grant helped to facilitate meetings with stakeholders and fund advisory, policy and summary reports.

Together, CRFAIR and FFCF prepared a final report, “Exploring Farm and Food Lands Access in the CRD: A Local Government Farmland Trust Approach,” which shares their findings and provides recommendations for establishing a pilot farmlands trust in the capital region.

Key findings include:

  • Stakeholders and community members support the idea of establishing a farmland trust, using public funds
  • A regional approach to land acquisition is favoured (with support from municipalities)
  • The trust needs to be specific to farm land and food production, as opposed to expanding the mandate of another trust or land acquisition fund
  • Diversified funding is required
  • Stakeholders had strong concerns about taking or selling land from the ALR to support a farmland trust – approach needs to ensure that no farmland is lost
  • The trust should be established based on proven models (example: parklands trust, housing trust) and requires a clear governance structure and strategic plan
  • There should be partnerships with First Nations communities and non-governmental organizations
  • Start with existing public lands, including public farmland and recently acquired public agricultural lands, before acquiring future land