Foreword by Heather Pritchard
My grandmother Anna Neufeld often said, both to comfort me and to put things in perspective, “This too will pass.” Of course, our time in this world is finite (she moved off the farm in her 70’s and died at 99), and the land, too, passes on.
Where someone in the family wants to continue to farm, it may stay a family farm – but it often gets complicated if other family members expect to receive a financial legacy that can only be realized by selling the land. The land is more vulnerable to being lost to food production when no one wants to farm. Indeed, it is increasingly rare that offspring are interested in continuing their parents’ farming tradition, and new farmers aren’t likely to be able to buy the land at today’s highly speculative and unaffordable real estate market prices.
How to make land available to new entrants into agriculture takes imagination and careful planning – but we do have choices when it comes to acquiring land. Across B.C. there are over 20 farms where land ownership is shared and there is more than one agricultural enterprise accessing it. We call these farms Community Farms and they are diverse. They may have been donated and put into trust, be owned by the municipality and leased out, be held by a faith-based community, or be a co-operative.
Take Fraser Common Farm Co-operative (a non-profit co-op) in the Fraser Valley where I live and Glorious Organics Co-operative (an agricultural worker co-op) that leases the land. We have been foraging for wild edibles in the woodlot, picking fruit from the orchard, intensively cultivating just over six acres of mixed greens, vegetables, berries, herbs and flowers, integrating chickens and sheep into our farming operation, and hosting tours, cultural activities, workshops, long tables and kids camps for over 35 years. More important, our members, diverse in age and skills, address the difficult issue of succession in a natural way. As people age the work they do changes to match their capacity and new co-op members take over the more physically demanding jobs.
When it seems unaffordable for even a co-operative to purchase the land, there is the option of acquiring it, by donation or purchase and putting it into trust. For this reason, we incorporated the Foodlands Co-operative of BC, a provincial land trust. We call it a foodlands trust, rather than a farmland trust, to honour and include Indigenous food systems, which are inclusive of hunting, gathering, fishing, and trapping rather than just production farming. This simple change in language expanded our mandate beyond production to the ecology of the land and all it provides. We became “stewards” not “owners” who take “responsibility” for the land instead of “managing” it.
This is just one example of the shift in perspective we will need to navigate land access challenges into the future: a shift in the way we think about land, a shift from commodity to community. There are solutions out there to transition land and farms to the next generation – and by and large the solutions mean coming together, bridging generations, cultures, and perspectives, and working together in new and innovative ways. If we work together, we can make it happen!
Heather Pritchard is committed to passing on the skills, land, partnerships, sustainable practices and biodiverse seeds to the next generation of farmers in B.C. She has been a leader in promoting different forms of land tenure that will allow people who want to farm to have access to land in the future. Heather is a founding member of FarmFolk CityFolk and is the founder and director of the Foodlands Co-operative of BC. She is a co-founder/farmer with Glorious Organics Co-op in the Fraser Valley and a resident member of Fraser Common Farm Co-operative, a community farm in the Township of Langley, B.C. where she has been farming since 1985.