Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Farmland Defence League in the Gulf Islands - want to be involved?

The Farmland Defence League is a province wide community-based volunteer organization working to protect all farm lands of British Columbia. The supporters and members of the Farmland Defence League come from a wide cross section of the population – agrologists, biologists, environmentalists, farmers, food security advocates. The organization was started by Harold Steves, a long-time Richmond farmer and city councillor, who co-founded the Agricultural Land Reserve in 1972 while he was an NDP MLA. The Farmland Defence League supports the Agricultural Land Commission's mandate to protect the Agricultural Land Reserve, much as the Gulf Islands Alliance supports the Islands Trust mandate to preserve and protect the Gulf Islands.
British Columbia's Land Commission Act came into effect in 1973 to establish a special provincial land use zone in partnership with local governments to protect BC's dwindling supply of agricultural land. This zone is the Agricultural Land Reserve. Boundaries for the ALR were primarily based on capability and suitability of the land and its use. In the Gulf Islands initial zoning was based on aerial photographs of existing farmland. Later on soils throughout the major Gulf Islands were more thoroughly ground truthed and mapped.
Through the years, there have been changes in provincial governments, local governments and amendments to the Act and its regulations. What has not changed has been public support for the Agricultural Land Reserve. In recent years, with increased attention to the importance of local food production for increased food security, the protection of our foodlands in BC has become critical. The Agricultural Land Reserve makes up less than five percent of our land base in BC. In southern BC, where pressures of development and recreation often are the basis of applications to exclude land from the ALR – even in the Gulf Islands - local governments with land use planning responsibilities must step up and work with the Agricultural Land Commission in achieving its mandate.
The recent Food Security Report of the Islands Trust highlights that more needs to be done to protect the Agricultural Land Reserve at the local government level. Although the importance of farmland protection was acknowledged and farmland acquisition by the Trust was encouraged, the report was almost silent on preserving and protecting the Agricultural Land Reserve. The Islands Trust should establish a hard line around the Agricultural Land Reserve to preserve and protect our food growing lands. As precedent, the North Pender Island Official Community Plan states that applications to remove land from the Agricultural Land Reserve will not be accepted. Planners and Trustees need to remember that the Agricultural Land Reserve is a RESERVE, and is food-producing land for future generations. There is no requirement for land to be in current production in order for it to be in the ALR.
It was encouraging to see in the report that Agriculture Advisory Committees were suggested for local Trust areas, and also Trust-wide. Agriculture Advisory Committees with a broad membership from the farm community, with support from provincial agrologists that represent input from the BC Ministry of Agriculture and the Agricultural Land Commission, are a tangible way for governments at all levels to support local food production. The Islands Trust should establish either Trust-wide and/or local Trust area Agricultural Advisory Committees for the farm community to advise Islands Trust on farm issues and initiatives. Salt Spring Island has an Agricultural Advisory Committee, which advises the Local Trust Committee. It is through this committee and local farm organizations that an Area Farm Plan was accomplished on Salt Spring. On Denman Island, recent efforts have been made to work with the farm community. An Agriculture Strategy was recently completed with an agriculture steering committee, that will hopefully become a full Agricultural Advisory Committee. Other islands have Agricultural Advisory Committees in their Official Community Plans but have yet to initiate them. It is hoped that they will do so. It is important as a first step in giving the farm community a voice. The protection of land alone will not assure food security.
The Islands Trust has been helpful in advocating for farmers when the Trust has taken the time to learn the issues and the impacts involved and has listened to farmers ( eg. meat regulations, farm tax assessment review ). Some issues that Gulf Island farmers are currently concerned with are lack of infrastructure (ie processing facilities), resident Canada Geese and deer that eat and damage crops, introduced species that impact agriculture (weeds, predators, competitive species), water resources, ferries (fares,schedules, capacity in peak seasons), ever-changing meat regulations, federal, provincial and local regulations, lack of consultation with farmers, community and local government (planners, elected officials) knowledge of agriculture (or lack of knowledge, to be precise), competing farmland uses (development, parkland, recreational) and the many ways to remove farmland from the ALR (exclusion applications, land swap deals, federal parks). These concerns are in addition to the less than unique concern of farm viability in an urban-focused cheap-food society.
The Islands Trust are viewed by many as leaders in environmental protection. To preserve and protect farmland and to encourage food production on the islands, the Trust needs to dialogue with people who are farming. The Islands Trust also needs to dialogue and work with other government agencies who are there to support farming and farmers. For information on the Farmland Defence League or to volunteer as a director in the Gulf Islands contact Barbara Johnstone Grimmer (firhill@gulfislands.com or call 250 629-3817).Our goal is to have at least one director per island.

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