Farming is like playing poker with mother nature and she always has the ace up her sleeve.
Every year at Madrona Farm we make mistakes that we insist we will not repeat next year but every year is different so they usually don’t re-emerge. Like the year we lost nearly an acre of heritage tomatoes, all grown on the side of a hill, to two weeks of rain followed by blight.
Former Madrona Farm owner Ruth Chambers, grandmother of current Madrona farmer David Chambers (my husband), called this “knowledge by human suffering.”
Ruth saw 27 farms disappear from the Blenkinsop Valley between 1951 and 2002. We saw nine disappear from 2002 to 2008. Now, I will try to answer a question isn’t asked enough: Whose job is it to protect farmland anyways?
Many of us warm our toes by the fire believing the ALR has us covered. However, there is very little protection for Saanich south’s ALR. And yet statistics show B.C. has the highest food insecurity in Canada. Even the rocky surfaces of Newfoundland and New Brunswick have greater food security than us. Despite living with the best climate and conditions, and the fact we live in a culturally derived fertility belt, we are municipally, provincially and federally food insecure.
It really is municipal zoning that protects farmland. The Urban Containment boundary (UCB) is a visionary land use planning tool that dictates and regulates permitted and non permitted uses. Areas outside the urban containment boundary are rural and on septic.
Areas planned for growth are located inside the UCB. This is all about regulating sprawl.
After witnessing the losses David and I decided against ownership of Madrona (former hunting grounds of Songhees and location of Camosun trail). We borrowed a model from the National Trust of England where they have protected 233 000 hectares through offering long term leases to farmers at market value and this is what inspired the dream to protect Madrona Farm forever. When I talk about exemplars and the power of the people this was a keystone initiative. This was a favourite project of Vic Derman, and inspired the Regional Farmlands Trust model, which Coun. Dean Murdock has been a champion of.
There are many people to thank here. You know who you are.
To make a long story short, read the book Saving Farmland the Fight for Real Food, and visit Farmlandprotection.ca.
Creating Madrona Farm changed my life it made me a believer. It made me realize that ‘yes, people are the problem but we are also the solution,’ and during the worst recession in Canada since the 1930s, we gathered 3,500 people and raised $2.7 million to protect Madrona forever.
The largest obstacle to food security is the price of farmland, second only to the industrialization, and non-permitted use of farmland. In addition to inflating the prices, non-permitted use of farmland degrades soils, pollutes watersheds and destroys the capacity of farmland for the future. These also make it vulnerable for future ALR exclusion.
Last year, 20 per cent of Madrona Farm was taken out of production due to non permitted uses in the area.
Obliged to my donors, I set off on a trek to see how to get policy 5.1 monitored and enforced. I’ve learned it’s all about business licenses. There are some owners in Saanich who feel it is their personal right to abuse the land, even destroy it, while evading industrial rents.
I believe this is an abuse of the system. We taxpayers are subsidizing their misuse. We are taking Saanich to court with our own tax money. The complaint driven bylaw system is a complete failure and a source of financial mismanagement.
Most complaints are not made due to intimidation, and there are some very serious obstacles in the way of bylaw enforcement. Business licenses in Saanich are often reissued without review. Mayor Atwell and council promised to protected farmland and reviewing these business licenses is an election issue for 2018.