Sooke councillor Al Beddows thinks a proposal by the Capital Regional District to create a “foodlands trust” should go to help existing farmers, not focus on new farmers trying to get themselves established.
The proposed foodlands trust calls for municipalities in Greater Victoria to either donate municipal land or make a commitment to fund the project through the collection of additional taxes.
But several aspects of the plan irked Beddows when the program was presented to Sooke council recently by Jeff Weightman, a project manager for the CRD.
“Is this program going to help established farmers, or focus on new farmers trying to get themselves established?” asked Beddows.
“My thought was that we would be better served if assistance was offered to established farmers.”
Weightman’s response – that the program would primarily focus on new farmers – seemed to confirm Beddows’ fears.
“So, you’re going to take 10 acres somewhere in Saanich and give it to some new farmer with no experience and no equipment, he won’t be living on the land, and you think this will be a good idea?” asked Beddows.
Beddows’ concerns were shared by Sooke farmer Ellen Lewers.
“I just don’t see the need for a farmland trust. What’s needed is helping the farmers already here,” she told council.
Another issue centred aroundSooke having no land that met the requirements of the trust and the only lands in the program to date are in Saanich and North Saanich.
That would leave Sooke in the position of funding the program on those lands. But even there, problems were evident as there was no definitive dollar amount put forward.
The actual levy required by each municipality, council was told, would be dependant upon how many municipalities actually buy into the concept. So far, only Central Saanich, North Saanich, Saanich and Sidney have opted into the program with several others, including Oak Bay, Colwood, and Langford opting out.
“How are we going to vote to support this if we don’t even know what the cost is?” Beddows said.
“We don’t know enough … there are too many unknowns and we don’t have to go charging ahead right now. Let it sit a year and look at it then” he said, adding Sooke would be better off funding an additional community garden.
“The garden down by the Baptist church donates something like 3,000 pounds of food a year to the food bank,” he said.
Coun. Megan McMath expressed her own concerns about the concept, noting the land donated to the trust was almost exclusively in the Saanich region.
“I don’t see the benefit of donating (to the trust) given that the land is so far away from us. I would like to pursue the donation of CRD owned parkland (in the Sooke region) for the trust,” she said.
Following additional discussions, during which Coun. Tony St. Pierre and Coun. Ebony Logins both expressed some support for the trust, it was decided council would support the foodland trust concept in principle, without making a definitive commitment to participation.