This weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver: BC Needs to Strengthen local Food Supply
Columnists Laila Yuile and Brent Stafford battle over the issues of the day. The winner of last week’s duel on the proposed ‘urban resort’ in Vancouver was Brent with 71%.
This week’s topic:
Is it time to review and change the Agricultural Land Reserve?
News flash for Brent: you don’t have to be from the Okanagan for the Agricultural Land Reserve to be “literally a backyard issue.” Talk to residents and farmers alike in Surrey, Delta and Richmond, and you’ll find phenomenal support for the current boundaries of the ALR.
Ironically, while Brent mentions outrage from MLA Nicholas Simons this week, he purposely doesn’t mention the appalling manner in which MLA Bill Bennett rolled out the public input process for this review. Bennett issued a press release stating the public could give input about the ALR to the Committee on Finance and Government Services that has been travelling the province in recent weeks.
However, Bennett reportedly didn’t actually tell anyone on the committee — not even his own parliamentary secretary Dan Ashton — who fielded many embarrassing inquiries. One would think the government didn’t really want anyone to show up to give input. Why else would you announce halfway through the process that the scope had changed, and keep it quiet? I can hear it now: “ALR boundaries? No one showed up to comment — let’s develop that land!”
Without a doubt, the ALR has been a source of conflict, mainly for greedy developers. Ironically, while “locally grown” has become a big selling point for nearly every restaurant in the province, the B.C. government is busy targeting the same ALR that protects the locally grown label…
Read the rest of this weeks column, and vote for you think should win this weeks duel, at http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2013/10/06/bc-needs-to-strengthen-the-local-food-supply
This weeks column is definitely one issue more people need to think about, not only in terms of food supply, but in terms of what we value in our province. Arzeena Hamir, an agrolist and farmer in the Comox Valley, did give her submission to the review, and granted permission for me to share it here – I think she makes some very compelling points about where we are now, and where we may end up :
My submission to the Select Standing Committee on Finance & Gov’t Services
My name is Arzeena Hamir. I am a Professional Agrologist , a member of the Comox Valley Food Roundtable and the local Women’s Institute, the Board Secretary of the Certified Organic Association of British Columbia and a Board Member of the BC Food Systems Network. But most importantly, I am a farmer. I farm 26 acres here in the Comox Valley. We grow a variety of vegetables and fruits, which we sell at the Comox Valley Farmers Market and to a growing number of customers of our weekly box program.
We are facing a crisis in BC. Farmers are aging. Farmland prices are astronomical, and yet there is a growing understanding that locally-grown food is essential not only for our health, but for our economic security. Nowhere is this more keenly felt than here on Vancouver Island. We used to grow more than 90 percent of our food on this Island and now we import95% of it. One mega storm, one large earthquake and this Island has 4 days of food supplies on its shelves. How will we be able to work and keep our economy going without food? We won’t. How will businesses continue to run with hungry workers? They won’t. Where will people turn for food on day 5? They’ll turn to their farmers.
But where have all the farmers gone? I look around even in the vibrant Comox Valley and I am considered a “young one”, and I’m in my 40’s! So many of the other farmers will retire in the next 5 to 10 years, taking all of their knowledge and their food production with them. And then who will grow food for our children? Time and time again, our reliance on imported food has proven to be foolhardy. If you recall the food scares in 2008 when the rice and wheat crops failed in Australia and Russia, the prices in Canada soared. It doesn’t take much to show how vulnerable our import-reliant food system is to outside shocks.
British Columbians should have a safe and secure food supply. What can this government do to support agriculture? It needs to invest in innovation, attract young people into the profession, and support them with extension agents. Currently, we have one of the lowest levels of government spending in the agricultural sector in Canada. I believe only Newfoundland is lower. British Columbians not only need better support, but deserve better support from their government.
In 2006, the BC Ministry of Agriculture published BC’s Food Self – Reliance Report, stating that in order to produce a healthy diet for British Columbians, we needed just over 2 million hectares of land in production, which would have to increase to 2.8 million by 2025. As of 2011, we are 200,000 acres short of this 2025 target.
But, how do we get land into production and attract new farmers into agriculture? We need to support them, provide them with the knowledge and extension information they need to make proper business and production decisions. The Ministry of Agriculture budget needs to increase substantially.
We also need affordable land for new farmers to farm on. I left Richmond, BC to come to the Comox Valley because agricultural land prices in Richmond were completely unaffordable, ranging anywhere from $100,000 to$500,000 an acre. Why is this so? Because developers have, over the decades, been given signals that if they speculated on farmland, they would eventually be able to take it out of the Agricultural Land Reserve to develop.
The time for this type of irrationality is over. I am imploring you, in your capacity as members of this Standing Committee, to support the current practices that are being implemented by the Agricultural Land Commission to limit reapplications for exclusions. I am also asking you tore commend a major, cost cutting measure, that could potentially help fund many of the asks that I have outlined today.
The cost cutting measure is to stop accepting ALR exclusions entirely, thereby saving staff time and resources. I am asking you to recommend that the boundary of the Agricultural Land Reserve be drawn with a hard line. No more exclusions out of the ALR, period. We have had 40 years to fiddle with the boundaries and the time has come to stop wasting money on this and dedicate our energies to saving farmland, and getting more land into production. This would be the focus of the Agricultural Land Commission, along with enforcement of the current legislation that protects farmland from soil dumping and contamination.
Only 5% of BC’s land base is arable and this land base is under constant pressure. But we absolutely cannot forgo our food production security for the sake of residential or industrial development. Our children and our grandchildren will never forgive us for sacrificing our food producing land.
I’m here to state that farming is a viable, economic enterprise and the highest and best use of agricultural land. I provide food for my community and circulate the money given to me, right here in my community. This is an essential economic activity that will support British Columbians for generations to come. I ask you to think about any other economic activity that is essential for us to live. I can’t think of one.
Thank-you for your time and for allowing me to speak to you today.