Tall grass surrounds the historic 1905 two-storey Newman Farm home in Central Saanich. Blackberries attempt to take over the field behind the home. Nearby, new planks sparkle on the weathered wood backdrop of the barn built in 1900; a sign of the future.
“This was a working farm when the Newmans had it, so we recognize although we were calling it a municipal park, it was really a farm park. It was definitely a goal to see a community group take it on as a project,” said Mayor Alastair Bryson.
The Farmlands Trust is taking the challenge and plans to bring the homestead site of the park, off narrow Newman Road (off Wallace Drive), back into agricultural production. They signed an agreement with the District of Central Saanich on March 23.
“This has been a vision for Newman Farm ever since we did the master plan, that we would see some community group offer to act as an intermediary between the municipality and farmers who might use the land for agricultural production,” Bryson said. “The Farmlands Trust seems well positioned to fill the role.”
The Farmlands Trust (Greater Victoria) Society, a group dedicated to the preservation of farmland for the benefit of the community, holds a three-year lease for the more than 100-year-old heritage site.
“We are pleased that after several years of negotiation, our group was chosen for this important project,” said Ed Johnson, chair of the trust.
The process began in 2009 and last year a temporary permit allowed some soil turning, which Johnson did with his own tractor. This summer the farm will connect to municipal water in hopes of getting a fall cover crop planted.
“The goal is to have one or more farmers farming this,” Johnson said. “Then we’ll have educational tours, kids going through here showing them how things are grown.”
About one hectare will start out organically cultivated for vegetables, some of which are planned to eventually supply organizations like the Sidney Lions Food Bank and Mustard Seed.
“I’m hoping to taste something,” Bryson said with a chuckle. “I’m hoping to see some agricultural production that’s consistent with the Newman style of farming which was organic. Farmlands Trust has committed to using organic farming methods.”
Future plans call for community involvement for educational opportunities such as growing, harvesting, and preserving food grown on the premises.
“We often hear there are folks who are challenged to afford a piece of land or get tenure of a piece of land … this land could be a proving ground for beginning farmers and allow them to get their feet on the ground, develop some skills which should perhaps put them in a good position to secure some land,” Bryson said.
The municipality has enjoyed successful joint ventures in the past, with Saanich Historical Artifacts Society at municipally owned Heritage Acres, the Saanich Pioneer Society where the Log Cabin Museum and Artifacts resides, and on a different scale, the Central Saanich Seniors Centre in Brentwood Bay.
“You wait for a while until the community shows a level of interest. This is an asset we’ve had since 2003 and we’ve just been maintaining it, and maintaining the opportunity,” Bryson said.
He’s pleased the FLT vision is aligned with the district vision for the farm – farming, education and public interaction.
“This is a park, so we’ll be on display,” Johnson said. “It’ll be a community focus. People can come here and picnic.”