B.C. VIEWS: Two solitudes on B.C. farmland

Dividing the province into two zones for agricultural land management is an idea that deserves serious consideration

A farmer prepares his field in Delta. Debate has continued for decades about the agricultural land reserve's function outside B.C.'s main farming regions of the Okanagan and southwest

VICTORIA – My late father used to say that if he ever won the lottery, he would “farm until it’s all gone.”

It was 1960 when he and my mother pulled up stakes in the Okanagan, where their families had been for generations, and moved north to carve a homestead out of a half section in the Peace River country.

So it’s a mainly northern perspective that I bring to the latest debate over B.C.’s agricultural land reserve. A dialogue of the deaf has been going on for decades in B.C., where there are two separate realities in agriculture.

The dominant voice is always from the southwest, from the Okanagan to the Fraser Valley to southern Vancouver Island. This is not only B.C.’s most productive land, it’s also the place of greatest population and development pressure, where three million of the province’s four million residents live and more arrive every day.

In the rest of the province, except for pockets that are attractive for recreational development, farming is a tough row to hoe. These days, people are more likely to be moving away.

In our urbanized society, the loudest voices tend to be the least informed, from backyard-chicken hipsters to what I call “drive-by environmentalists,” who like to look out their car windows at green fields as they motor from their subdivisions to big-box stores. The elderly Sikhs and Mexican guest workers bent over in the fields don’t need their lofty lectures on “food security.”

Voices from the rest of the province are seldom heard and quickly shouted down, as was the case at the recent Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver.

Merritt councillor Mike Goetz pleaded for relief from an Agricultural Land Commission that refuses to release a property that has “grown nothing but rocks and tumbleweeds for the last 100 years.” Similar property next door was released, but not this parcel, blocking a project for five years in a little town that could use the work and additional tax base. Urban sprawl isn’t a big problem in Merritt, which like many small towns is trying to hang onto its population.

Spallumcheen councillor Ed Hanoski described the situation beyond the towns, the real rural B.C. He proposed easing the restrictions on building a second home on farm properties.

Currently, farmers can put a mobile home on their property for an elderly or infirm relative, but nothing with a permanent foundation. Once that relative moves or passes away, the home is supposed to be removed.

Hanoski said a sewage system for such a residence costs around $12,000. Add the temporary foundation, skirting, well hookup, power, landscaping, driveway, and a mobile home that will lose its value if it has to be moved, and the property owner takes a loss of $150,000 or more.

That’s why the removal rule is routinely ignored in rural B.C., Hanoski said. These second homes are the only rental stock there is, providing modest income for marginal farms, and should be allowed permanent foundations. Motion defeated, after a scolding from a Sunshine Coast delegate about people lusting to build mansions on farmland.

I asked Bill Bennett, the cabinet minister in charge of the latest agricultural land review, about a rumoured proposal to split the province into two zones with different rules. He declined to comment, but described the case of Fort Steele Farms, the East Kootenay community’s only market garden that almost closed because the next generation was initially refused permission for a second home.

The two zones approach deserves serious consideration.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalNews.com Twitter:@tomfletcherbc

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

West Shore RCMP seek man wanted on four counts of breaching court conditions

Christopher Elliott, 28, described as Caucasian with black hair, brown eyes

Work has started on Malahat Skywalk, expected completion in 2021

$15-million project expected to open in spring, 2021

Central Saanich’s Keating Elementary completes seismic upgrades

Sidney Elementary and North Saanich’s Deep Cove Elementary still waiting for seismic upgrades

Province offers expertise to help Esquimalt clean up Gorge oil spill

A leaky home heating tank shed oil into ground and storm water systems

B.C. men’s life expectancy down for a third straight year

Opioid crisis held responsible for declining life expectancy

B.C. reports first coronavirus in Vancouver region

First patient visited Wuhan, China, reported symptoms

Greater Victoria’s wanted list for the week of Jan. 28

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Landowner hearings begin for Trans Mountain expansion in Alberta

Detailed route talks start in Spruce Grove, in B.C. communities soon

VIDEO: Canada looking to help 126 Canadians quarantined in China for coronavirus

China has confirmed more than 4,500 cases of the new virus, with more than 100 deaths

Baby Bear statue returned to be reunited with Mama and Papa in Island Secret Garden spot

Culprit left it near the Henry Road roundabout in Chemainus with a note attached

Alessia Cara to host and perform at 2020 Juno Awards

Multi-platinum Canadian singer-songwriter also up for six awards, including Artist of the Year

Watch out for scams, clickbait in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s death: Better Business Bureau

Kobe Bryant and his daughter were killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles

‘Very disrespectful’: Headstones at Okanagan cemetery damaged by excavation crew

Headstones at Enderby’s Cliffside Cemetery mistakenly driven over by excavation crew

Despite reports of decline, birds flocking to national parks in Canadian Rockies

Recent studies suggest overall bird population has slid by three billion since 1970

Most Read