Transition Case Story: Madrona Farm

Posted by Darcy Smith on October 05, 2020

PUTTING FARMLAND INTO TRUST – MADRONA FARM

It’s easy to say that farmland should be preserved for future generations – and a whole other thing to make that happen! This story is an example of how community support can bridge the divide between an altruistic vision to preserve farmland and a family’s realistic financial needs.

Madrona Farm produces ecologically grown vegetables and works towards natural ecosystem restoration of the land, which is on unceded territory of the Songhees First Nation in the Blenkinsop Valley on Southern Vancouver Island’s Saanich peninsula. The land had been owned by the Chambers family since 1951. 

The current farmers (or ecocultural food growers) are Nathalie and David Chambers. David is the grandson of Ruth Chambers, who jointly owned the land with her three sons up until 1984 when ownership was transferred to the three boys. 

Twenty years later, when their mother Ruth passed away, the three brothers planned to sell the farm as the number of heirs made splitting the asset impossible without divesting of it in a simple sale. However, one of their sons, David, and his partner Nathalie, were passionate about keeping the farm legacy and protecting the land from development in perpetuity. Since Ruth was removed from the land title in 1984, more than one year before she passed, her sons did not have to pay capital gains tax on the land when she passed 20 years later.

Nathalie and David talked with their family members about the importance of protecting the land, not only for farming and local food security, but as a part of a healthy natural ecosystem. They recognized the spirituality of the land and its importance to the Songhees First Nation as a traditional hunting corridor and wanted to not only continue to grow food for their community, but to work to restore the native ecology of the land. 

After initially starting a land trust of their own which they hoped could hold the land, the couple later established the Friends of Madrona Farm Society and approached The Land Conservancy of BC (TLC), to see if the organization would hold the land in trust. A one-year MOU was created between Friends of Madrona Farm and TLC, in which time all family members came on board with several pledging their own ownership shares. 

In this time, TLC was supposed to be raising the rest of the funds to purchase the land. A “community purchase agreement” was written which outlined that the family needed financial compensation, but wanted to see the land sustainably farmed forever and preserved in its natural ecosystem state.

 Unfortunately, TLC couldn’t come up with the money needed to secure the land. It had been assessed multiple times and the value kept rising with each assessment. On top of that, TLC required an endowment of 10% of the property value in order to hold the land in perpetuity. 

Nathalie and David started a grassroots campaign to raise the $2 million plus needed after family pledges. Over 3,500 members of the community donated to the society to reach the full purchase price plus endowment required to preserve the farm in perpetuity, and the land was placed in trust with TLC.

Nathalie and David now have a 29-year lease of the farm from TLC and continue to run a very productive mixed vegetable operation, and are passionately working to restore the native ecosystem of the farm as well. This long-term lease gives the farmers security to make the investments in the land that are needed to run a successful operation.

The lease also adds an additional layer of protection to the land from sale and development, above and beyond the fact that it is in a trust. When the TLC had to sell properties, Madrona Farm was protected by this 29-year lease, as many prospective buyers wouldn’t want to buy land with the lease as an encumbrance on title, meaning they would have to honour the terms of the lease.

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Nathalie and David are currently nine years into their lease of the farm, which includes the 100-year-old farmhouse and outbuildings. They are responsible for the maintenance of the property, including all its infrastructure, (buildings, fences, etc.), paying the property taxes, insurance, maintaining farm status, and they also pay a monthly lease payment to TLC. 

The lease rate was set by TLC based on the per acre lease rate for farmland at the time, which is adjusted for inflation every five years. They are making investments into the land and house to live and farm without being compensated, though when the lease term is up they will be able to sell the lease with the fixtures on the land for whatever value the next farmer will pay. This next generation may be one of their own children, if they are interested in farming, or the lease will be open for application.

It took about four years from deciding not to sell the farm, and instead to protect it in trust, for the land to be secured by TLC. Countless hours of devoted energy and commitment to the project, driven by a passion to preserve the biodiversity and natural ecosystem of the land are what brought this project to meet its goal. 

The support of the community was critical – a huge amount of public engagement and support from people throughout the Saanich peninsula and Victoria area, with donations coming from much farther afield as well, carried the project forward. A model like this is possible to recreate, with lots of energy, drive and community support.

Putting land into trust the way Nathalie and David did is a great way to provide security for the farmer, without having to own the land, while also protecting the land itself in perpetuity. Fundraising from the community to purchase the land also enabled the landholders to see the financial return they needed for this to be a viable option.

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Photos courtesy of Madrona Farm

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