With the Sandown lands behind her, Jennifer Rashleigh of the Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture says she cannot wait to help turn the former horse racing track into a showcase of modern agricultural practices, calling it an “agricultural-focused community centre.” (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

With the Sandown lands behind her, Jennifer Rashleigh of the Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture says she cannot wait to help turn the former horse racing track into a showcase of modern agricultural practices, calling it an “agricultural-focused community centre.” (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

North Saanich’s Sandown lands to become ‘agricultural-focused community centre’

North Saanich will consider lease with Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture this month

The search for a long-term operator of the Sandown lands in North Saanich could conclude later this month with a lease agreement between the municipality and Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture (SCRA).

“It’s incredibly exciting and this is exactly what we need for agriculture right now, for climate change, for our insecure food supply system, for healing, for igniting curiosity, for COVID-19, for having outdoor places for us to come together in safe ways and still connect,” said Jennifer Rashleigh of SCRA.

North Saanich had chosen SCRA, along with Gobind Farms, to submit final proposals for the long-term operation of the lands, the site of a former horse race track, following a long selection process that had officially started in the fall of 2019 when six interested parties submitted their proposals for the municipally owned land. Other options before council included selling the lot or keeping it for the time being.

Council eventually chose SCRA as the preferred option in May following a narrow vote with opposition from Couns. Jack McClintock, Brett Smyth and Murray Weisenberger, while responding to last-minute interest from Tseycum First Nation.

Following additional discussions, councillors last month tasked staff to draft a lease agreement with SCRA with Couns. Heather Gartshore, Patricia Pearson, and Celia Stock joining Mayor Geoff Orr in support. Council will consider its details at its regular meeting Sept. 14.

Perhaps central to SCRA’s successful pitch is the idea of turning the Sandown lands into an “agricultural-focused community centre” as Rashleigh called it.

RELATED: North Saanich whittles down search for farmland operator to two

“This is a centre for teaching and learning and community engagement,” she said.

SCRA’s proposal parcels the land into a mix of commercial, educational and scientific uses centred on the idea of regenerative agriculture which SCRA describes as farming and grazing practices that reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity.

“This is going to be a living laboratory for that,” she said.

Key partners in the centre include local agro-business Fickle Fig, which will use the site as a grazing area for its animals; Haliburton Community Organic Farm; the University of Victoria through its ecological restoration program; and Kwantlen’s Institute for Sustainable Food Systems, said Rasleigh.

Using the land, these and other partners will see the SCRA showcase what she calls the “next generation of evolving farming practices” in Canada, offering “incubator plots” as well agricultural education and programs. “It’s tough being a farmer,” she said. “The number of farmers under 35 is plummeting. There is a growing local food movement and there is a real hunger for a robust local food economy. We are going to have that here.”

Support for SCRA around the council table and for that matter the community is not unanimous. Questions around the best use for the lands have swirled around the municipality for years and current critics of SCRA have scrutinized its financial plans, a theme likely to re-emerge later this month when staff present the lease to council for review. It currently calls for a 10-year term with North Saanich offering subsidies for the first three years.

Orr acknowledged that support for the group is not unanimous, adding that concerns about financing would exist “regardless” of who is undertaking this.

Orr said supporters like himself are also concerned about the district’s financial investment, but there are “a little more inclined to be in favour of the community aspect” of the proposal.

RELATED: North Saanich extends search for Sandown operator after only one credible proposal

RELATED: North Saanich looks for operator for Sandown lands

Rashleigh acknowledged the financial concerns expressed by the likes of Coun. Brett Smyth, perhaps the most vocal scrutineer of the group’s finances.

“Certainly, the plan is that this is not going to be a permanently subsidized farm,” she said.

Orr said North Saanich’s overall intent behind the search for a long-term operator has been to return the site to agricultural use, and SCRA’s proposal “to a large extent is moving in the right direction” with some details still to be worked out.

SCRA has certainly developed a significant number of partnerships, he said. “That gives us a foothold and a base to work from. It’s a positive step forward.”

Orr also predicted that a “lot of eyes” will be looking at SCRA to see if it is successful.

Equally uncertain is what, if any role, Tseycum First Nation will play on the land.

“We don’t want to ignore that dialogue,” said Orr.

Rashleigh wants to keep lines of communication open, but cannot wait to get going.

“People call it Utopian, but I have done this on a small scale in Vancouver for the last 12 years and I know what it looks like in practice,” she said. “It is just going to be lovely.”‘It only furthers the perception that it is going to fail.”


Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

wolfgang.depner@peninsulanewsreview.com

Saanich Peninsula

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

Just Posted

Various Victoria locations were hit with a slew of anti-bylaw graffiti Wednesday. This image has been altered to cover up profane language. (Submitted photo)
UPDATED: Slew of anti-bylaw graffiti an ‘unacceptable’ form of communication says Victoria mayor, police

Downtown businesses, bylaw office and Ministry of Finance vandalized Wednesday morning

This rendering shows plans for the new “flyover”overpass connecting northbound traffic on Highway 17 heading west on Keating Cross Road. Plans currently seeking public input propose two options for the median along Keating Cross Road. Option 1 will prevent left turns onto Tamany Drive and Buena Vista Road. Option 2 (seen here)will allow for left turns onto Tamany Drive and Bujena Vista Road. (Screencap/Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)
Public asked for comment on proposed overpass for Pat Bay in Central Saanich

New flyover overpass proposed for Highway 17 and Keating Cross Road

(Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents can reserve provincial camp sites starting March 8

B.C. residents get priority access to camping reservations in province

A pedestrian pushing two children in a stroller was struck by a driver while crossing a Highway 1 off-ramp at Burnside Road West on Feb. 24. (Google Streetview)
UPDATED: Pedestrian with two children in stroller struck in Saanich crosswalk after driver failed to yield

No serious injuries reported, driver issued $167 ticket under Motor Vehicle Act, police say

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Feb. 23

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

(Black Press Media File Photo)
POLL: Are you struggling with Greater Victoria’s cost of housing?

While Victoria remains one of the most expensive cities in the country… Continue reading

Photograph By @KAYLAXANDERSON
VIDEO: Lynx grabs lunch in Kamloops

A lynx surprises a group of ducks and picks one off for lunch

Two women were arrested in Nanaimo for refusing to wear masks and causing disturbance on a BC Ferries vessel. (File photo)
B.C. ferry passengers arrested and fined for disturbance, refusing to wear masks

Police said woman threatened their pensions in Feb. 21 incident aboard Nanaimo-bound boat

When his owner had knee surgery, Kevin, 2, was able to continue to go for walks thanks to volunteers from Elder Dog Canada. (Contributed photo)
B.C. woman has nothing but praise for Elder Dog Canada

National organization has a fleet of volunteer walkers ready, but needs more clients to serve

Justin Morissette is still recovering from the injuries sustained in the altercation. He is not yet able to walk without assistance. (Justin Morissette, Twitter)
B.C. man suing city and police over violent altercation with anti-LGBTQ preacher

Justin Morissette argues police knew the threat the preacher posed, and failed to keep the peace

Mowi Canada West salmon farm in B.C. waters. Conservative MPs have backed an industry call for further discussions on the timeline for closing Discovery Island farms. (Photo supplied by Mowi Canada)
Conservative MPs back B.C. salmon farmers’ call for transparent discussions

Farm owners requested consultations, more time to leave Discovery Islands

Jack Barnes, who was Cowichan Valley Capitals property from May 2020 until last week, scores a goal for the Penticton Vees during the 2019-20 BCHL season. (Brennan Phillips/Black Press)
COVID-crunched BCHL facing trade deadline dilemma with its 20-year-olds

Hard decisions loom when BCHL may or may not resume play

Most Read