Update from Southern Vancouver Island: Regional Food and Farmland Trust

Posted by Michalina Hunter on July 04, 2019 4 Comments

An update from the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiative Roundtable (CRFAIR)

This spring the Capital Regional District (CRD) completed a Foodlands Access Program Feasibility Study (‘the Study’), the completion of which was recommended in the Regional Food and Agriculture Strategy. The purpose of the Study was to determine the best way to increase farmers’ access to land in the CRD. With input from new and established farmers, non-profits, existing incubator farm programs, local farmland trusts and local/provincial government representatives, the Study examined seven land access tools.

One strategy is to create a local government supported, Regional Food and Farmland Trust and in April the CRD Board passed a motion directing staff to canvas all municipalities to assess whether there is a desire to have the CRD operate a foodlands trust in partnership with a non-profit organization. The decision on the table right now is which municipalities would like to be part of a Regional Food and Farmland Trust, helping to build a “coalition of the willing”. Those who are, can be involved in further developing and shaping the operational model.

Interested? Read on!

What is the issue?

  • The Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) represents only 7% of the CRD’s area. The region’s population is expected to increase by 27% by 2038, which will put significant pressure on foodlands. Meanwhile, the CRD’s 2018 Regional Growth Strategy includes a target to increase productive foodlands by 5,000 ha by 2038. The ALR has helped stem the loss of farmland, but there is a need for further action to ensure that farmland is used for its intended purpose.
  • Only 50% of the CRD’s ALR is in production. The underutilization of farmland, both now and in the future, is a lost regional opportunity. With over 50% of the region’s farmers retiring in the next 10 years, there is concern that new farmers will not be able to afford to enter the sector to replace them.
  • Vancouver Island has had the greatest increase in farmland value in BC, where it currently sells for up to $100,000 per acre, an increase of nearly 25% over two years. The high cost of land is a barrier not only to new farmers, but also to those wishing to expand their business. This is due in part to agricultural lands being purchased by non-farmers and held with low risk for speculative purposes. 

What is a Regional Food and Farmland Trust?

A Regional Food and Farmland Trust (‘the Trust’) is proposed whereby the CRD and its member municipalities would set aside land they own to provide long term leases to farmers and to community food organizations to produce food for the Capital Region. It would be a vehicle to get farmland that is already owned by the CRD into production but also provide a way to add additional farmland to this bank as farmers retire, or important farms come onto the market. This land would be managed by a third party to take care of the leases and ensure the land is taken care of, much like the fantastic working example of Haliburton Community Organic Farm; on land owned by the District of Saanich, managed by the Haliburton Community Organic Farm Society and sees six separate farm businesses operating on the land.

Where did this idea come from?

The idea for the Trust emerged nearly ten years ago and in 2014 the District of Saanich passed a motion to support exploration of a RFFLT and requested a staff report on the topic. The District of North Saanich Council also passed a motion at the time to support the CRD in establishing the Trust and farmland acquisition fund. The Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiative Roundtable (CRFAIR) then undertook research, stakeholder engagement and outreach to understand the challenges of land access in the CRD and explore potential models.

With the emergence of the 2016 CRD Regional Food and Agriculture Strategy, Recommendation 9 was put forward to “increase access to agricultural and food lands” with the associated action to “Initiate a process to establish a regional food and farmland trust”. With direction from the Regional Food and Agriculture Task Force, CRD staff proceeded to move forward this work and on September 6, 2017 a Staff Report was brought forward with the directive that a “funding of a feasibility study/business case be supported”. The result was the CRD Regional Foodlands Access Program Feasibility Study and accompanying documents (Executive Summary, Supporting Appendices, Presentation, Staff Report) that were presented in spring 2019.

What is the current status on developing a Regional Food and Farmland Trust?

Municipalities are indicating their support in having the CRD operate a foodlands trust in partnership with a non-profit organization – here’s what they are saying:

Indication of Support

  • Highlands
  • North Saanich
  • Saanich
  • Sidney
  • View Royal
  • Victoria

Indication of No Support

  • Colwood
  • Esquimalt
  • Langford
  • Oak Bay

Decision Deferred

  • Central Saanich
  • Metchosin
  • Sooke

How can I show support and learn more?

CRFAIR has additional information and actions you can take learn more from CRFAIR here!

4 thoughts on “Update from Southern Vancouver Island: Regional Food and Farmland Trust

  1. This is a terrific idea. As global heating ramps up and food security becomes more of an issue, the Island will suffer tremendously. Our farmers are dependent on fossil fuels, so the rest of society needs to decrease our GHG emissions accordingly. We need more front- and back-yard food gardens. But this is a terrific idea for a larger scale. Thank you.

    1. It was a free stock image I found online, licensed for reuse. It looks like it could be on Vancouver Island, which is why we used it, but I’m not sure where the original photo was taken.


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