Land Matching for the Next Generation of Farmers: Okanagan Update, April 2019

Posted by Tessa Wetherill on April 08, 2019

By Tessa Wetherill, Okanagan Land Matcher in our B.C. Land Matching Program

Listening to people is just as fascinating as listening to plants. For the first growing season in 12 years, I won’t be farming as my primary occupation, instead I’m joyfully continuing on in the role of the Okanagan Land Matcher with the B.C. Land Matching Program delivered by Young Agrarians.

Watching and nurturing these new collaborations between new farmers without land and property owners wanting to see their land farmed is both enlivening and encouraging. Not much different than my other much loved spring activity, caring for seedlings. After kicking off in the Lower Mainland in 2016 the  B.C. Land Matching Program (BCLMP) delivered by the Young Agrarians got started in the Okanagan region, as well as Vancouver Island and the Columbia Basin, last August.  I’m pleased to report that since then, many matches have been made, many conversations started and new agricultural businesses are being born in the Okanagan Valley. 

Just completed is a lease agreement between a retired apple orchardist with 18 currently bare acres and a young, energetic viticulturist. We worked together over the period of several months, from initial introduction to final signing of a 20 year land lease, registered on title. The length of the lease was especially important, as the young farmer Pravin Dhaliwal won’t be seeing returns on his investments for at least four years and there is security for his business, should Anthony Gogol, the land owner, decide to sell or in his words, “leave the planet.” 

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I was honoured to facilitate their negotiations and open discussions. It’s an incredible thing to witness people coming together, being honest about their needs, values, roles and responsibilities and it is ultimately this foundation, along with a spirit of collaboration, that will carry them forward into a mutually beneficial, long term relationship. When asked why he wanted to lease his land, Anthony’s reply was one word: “tired.” Meaning, I assume, that he no longer has the energy to take on new farm ventures of his own, but watching the two men leaning over the main water valve to inspect how best to install a filter, discussing favourite tractors, and generally getting along like old friends, I saw a sparkle in his eye that was anything but tired. 

As with any partnership, this beautiful beginning doesn’t preclude challenges in the future. Indeed, human relationships can be as messy and complicated as they are rewarding and nourishing, but how we relate to this conflict is worth examining. Perhaps our differences are really the ‘voice of a new paradigm, demanding a change in a system that has outlived it usefulness.’ 

I’ve heard many people, myself included, bemoaning the disintegration of community in our modern, busy lives, but I think we all know on some level that we’re in it together. Community is based on the recognition of need. If young farmer Pravin could afford to buy land, he most certainly would, but the reality in this economic climate is that he cannot, and if you can’t meet all your needs with money, you simply have to find another way – a return perhaps to an older model when we relied on each other, rather than the economic system, for support.

Eoin Carey of Alpine Roots Farm breaks land for his new farm venture.
Eoin Carey of Alpine Roots Farm breaks land for his new farm venture.

Other leases have been less formal, like a recently signed lease for Eoin Carey of Alpine Roots Farm. Eoin is just beginning his farming journey and is leasing two acres in West Kelowna on a one year lease with three year renewal option to produce mixed vegetables for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Program. For Eoin, leasing land close to his home and customers is the perfect way to get started towards his goal of small-scale farm success.

Things are changing, and many of our old stories are beginning to fall apart. We need a new story, a new way of being, and a new way of seeing to really move into a new reality. Plants have all kinds of wisdom to share with us if we listen. They show us how interconnected we are. They tell a story of mutual reliance, of reciprocity, of symbiosis. The soil and the plants and the trees and all of life is whispering that the success of one is the success of all.

Tessa Wetherill in fieldIf you’re a farmer looking for land to lease, or a farmland owner who’d like to find someone to farm your land, reach out today! I’m the Okanagan Land Matcher, Tessa Wetherill, and I’m here to support your land access needs: tessa@youngagrarians.org. If you’re outside the Okanagan and interested in leasing your land or finding land to farm, please reach out to land@youngagrarians.org.

The B.C. Land Matching Program is funded in the Okanagan by the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture.

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