Organic growers provide feedback on ALR Broken promises, future opportunities shape perspective on farmland protection


ABBOTSFORD – A public consultation aimed at gathering feedback on revitalizing the Agricultural Land Commission and Agricultural Land Reserve has undertaken nine meetings with farm organizations and received almost 1,000 responses to its online survey. Stakeholder meetings have been closed to the general public but inclement weather created an opportunity for an informal roundtable on the revitalization at the annual conference of the Certified Organic Associations of BC in Abbotsford at the end of February. Wet snow and slick roads

prevented three presenters from making it to the conference. To fill one of the gaps, Arzeena Hamir, who was invited to join the nine- member review panel last October, asked growers to share their thoughts on how to improve the reserve.

“I grew up in Richmond, which I considered the epicentre of everything that could go wrong with the ALR,” Hamir said by way of introduction. While feedback from the

South Coast has highlighted concerns about the impact of cannabis production and large-scale residential development, issues associated with oil and gas have been big issues in the Peace. The wheels are also in motion for the return to a single zone for the entire ALR. Hamir welcomed input

from organic growers as to the issues they deemed important to address. “This is the perfect gathering for us to get our ideas together and then just really punch the ministry with it,” she said. “They really don’t know what to do.” Charlie Lasser, a veteran

organic producer who ranches in Chetwynd, said the fact the land reserve has never worked as intended has


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meant several obstacles for farmers, and opportunities for development. “When the land

commission came into effect, they guaranteed farmers would be able to make a living,” he said, noting that

Others pointed out that it

didn’t matter who owned the land, so long as it was in production.

“I think the more important thing is that people are able to buy that land and not farm it,” said Heather Pritchard, a

“I grew up in Richmond which I considered the epicentre of everything that could go wrong with the ALR.”


support programs initially existed to accomplish this goal. “But it only lasted a few years and it was done away with.”

Another disappointment,

frequently mentioned by landowners around the province, was the failure to tweak the original boundaries of the ALR. “They used a very broad brush when they defined the land,” Lasser said. “Within five years, they were supposed to come back and redefine where the boundaries should be. They’ve never done that.” A grower from Vancouver Island echoed Lasser’s comments, noting that the land would be farmed if farming was profitable. “It’s because we can’t make a living that we need to do other things on our farms,” she said. “The bottom line is, we’re not making money. We need to protect the farmers. What good is the land if we don’t have the farmers?”

driving force behind the Foodlands Cooperative of BC, an organization that has sought to secure land and make it available to producers for food production. “Where we are in the Lower Mainland, as most people know, it’s being bought up and monster houses are going up every single day that we live and nobody’s farming it. It isn’t about the land coming out of the ALR, but staying in the ALR and people buying it for an estate home.” Hamir pointed out it’s not just the Lower Mainland where this is happening; in northeastern BC, the Peace region is seeing the creation of quarter-section estates with large mansions and no farming occurring. While the idea of removing speculative forces from the trade in farmland garnered support, Hamir said that could negatively impact older farmers whose retirement plans hinge on the

appreciation of their properties. Moreover, a report released

in March by the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry put the onus squarely on the province. While the federal government could increase the lifetime capital gains exemption to facilitate local purchases of farmland, each province is responsible for actual land transactions. This is where COABC

director Corey Brown, a grower in Cawston, said the province has to get serious about protecting farmland in perpetuity, whether or not it’s being farmed today. Pushing ahead with the Site C dam while at the same time asking people how to protect farmland underscores a disconnect in government thinking, he said.

“Someone needs to make radical decisions that show that they’re serious about food security and saving land,” he said. “The idea that we’re going to revamp the ALR but we’re going to flood a huge chunk of the ALR at the same time is just [not serious].” Kiara Jack, an agrologist in Delta, said land needs to be both protected and farmed. How people make sense of a farming use is one thing, but the more important thing is that land be farmed. “There are people who

would like to be subsistence farmers or live in other economies that don’t include being able to make a living wage,” she said of the emphasis on profitability. “Whether it’s actually growing food or not is more important.”

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