Leasing farmers Jordan and Brie, Vancouver Island.
The importance of a secure local food supply has perhaps never been more acutely felt than in these times of disruption to our normal way of life. As people adapt to a new reality, many are turning to local farmers and local food to keep their fridges and shelves stocked. Farmers have had to adapt quickly to a dramatically different market for their products, as restaurants close and farmers’ markets shift from social environments to more controlled food access points.
For many farmers this change means focusing on more direct-to-consumer sales of their product, such as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), where community members sign up for a weekly subscription of vegetables at the beginning of the growing season, and the farmer is then able to count on that customer base.
Vegetable farmer and compost producer Jordan and his partner Brie were matched to land on Vancouver Island through the B.C. Land Matching Program in early 2020. When the provincial State of Emergency was announced due to COVID-19, Jordan’s CSA sales skyrocketed. “There is a raised awareness of local food production now, and more community support that is allowing farms to step it up and produce even more food,” he says as he reflects on his role in the community as a farmer. “The island can gain more food security through this, and a greater overall sense of community. These are the people you live with, you have to care about them and help them. We love spending our day in the garden and we want this to be our career for the long term.”
These shifts are strengthening the ties between farmers and the members of their immediate communities – as people are increasingly aware of the fragility of our global food system, and are taking the recommended precautions to avoid public spaces, they are turning to their local farmers and the shortest food supply chains possible. Now, more than ever, we collectively are recognizing that farmers are highly critical members of our communities: local food is not a luxury, but a necessity, and local food production must be prioritized. As Jordan says, “Community support is critical for making these sorts of enterprises successful. Farming is so much work, and can be so stressful, but I’ve got a role to play at this time.”
Landowners Valorie and Alan with leasing farmers Meg and Callum, Vancouver Island.
Valorie and Alan are leasing their land on Vancouver Island, and found farmers to lease to through the B.C. Land Matching Program. They highlight the important role owners of farmland can play in increasing local food production: “Most of our produce is imported from the United States and the COVID pandemic is demonstrating how essential local and sustainable food is for our survival! American farms can’t bring in foreign workers to harvest their produce, and many American meat production plants have closed due to the COVID pandemic. As our food supply chain from the United States starts to dry up, we have to turn to our Canadian farmers to produce our much needed food. Much of our Canadian farmland, however, is used to supply feed (corn and soy) to large scale animal producers, or lies fallow. Canada is not utilizing farmland to produce the fruit and vegetables needed for Canadians to eat! Property values are so high that young farmers cannot afford to buy property to farm.”
Valorie and Alan decided to lease their farmland because they “had a vision of providing farmland for production of good, local food,” they say. “We now have two young farmers using two acres for a market garden, additional space for pastured chickens and ducks for eggs and meat, and we share in pastured pigs, sheep and cows for small scale meat production. Our vision is turning to a reality!”
Across the province in the Okanagan, Pradha Farm is looking for growers to join them through the B.C. Land Matching Program. Genevieve, the farm owner, recognizes “the pressures that individuals and companies are facing during the pandemic” and that “the situation has illustrated the gaps in our current system and our increasing dependency on other countries to support our food industry. We have skilled people but the access to inexpensive land and housing on site for the farmers and their families has created a barrier for local food production. This is even more pronounced in B.C.’s inflated real estate market which places even more difficulty on farmers to own and farm their land, and develop the local farming industry.”
A view of Pradha Farm, Okanagan.
Genevieve goes on to say that “Pradha Farm began with its vision and drive to provide people who have dreams of farming, supporting green energy and in celebrating a space that stewards community empowerment with ecological land use. We aim to support community projects such as a community apiary, and development of bee habitat to support the apiary, along with opening up two to three acres for agricultural land use.”
The B.C. Land Matching Program has supported 69 matches on over 900 acres across the province since launching in Metro Vancouver in 2016 and expanding province-wide in summer of 2018. We’re thrilled to be able to help new farmers access land to start their farm businesses, existing farmers grow their land base, and farmland owners realize their vision for their land!
Now is the time to deepen connections and strengthen our local food systems – from career farmers to newly-minted home gardeners, we all have an important role to play. As Genevieve says, “There’s a silver lining here, if we continue to work together.”
Landowners, we encourage you to reach out to the B.C. Land Matching Program to help a farmer access land and strengthen your community’s local food supply. Whether you have hundreds of acres of farmland, or a small urban plot, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and a land matcher will get in touch to learn more about your land and vision and to work toward making a match. There is a wide diversity of farmers and growers looking for spaces to produce food across the province, and your land might just be the perfect fit. Farmers, get in touch to start a conversation about leasing land to grow!
The B.C. Land Matching Program is funded by the Province of British Columbia, with support from Columbia Basin Trust, Cowichan Valley Regional District, Real Estate Foundation of B.C., Bullitt Foundation, and Patagonia.