Viewpoint: Island needs more farmers

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By CARLOS GROOMS

Future food security is looming as one of the most pressing issues facing us today.

On Salt Spring:

• Our farmers’ average age is about 60 years old;

• over 80 per cent of our arable land is seriously under-utilized or worse (according to asurvey done by the Agricultural Land Commission in 2017);

• farmland has become impossibly out of reach for young farmers to attain;

• amidst a full-on drought we still flush most of our drinking water down the toilet. 

What can we do?

Paradise Within Farm has submitted — upon request of our Islands Trust — an application to the ALC. This application requires the approval of the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee to advance it to the ALC.

That proposal would have allowed four new farmers to stay and lease two acres each, converting a low-producing hay field into eight acres of intensive food production, clearly benefitting local agriculture and more on so many levels.

Our farm’s current 3.5 acres in production will keep our crew busy forever. With 18 arable acres sitting there under-utilized it remains irresponsible of us not to attempt to farm it.

We need more farmers and their resources, as our application suggested. 

Therefore, we felt shock, bewilderment and frustration upon hearing that our proposal was rejected due to “not enough farming being done there presently.”

With all of the information in our 1.5-page executive summary and the detailed 24-page submission it challenges us as to how the trustees and the Agricultural Advisory Planning Commission could not catch this error in process.

Farm workers can come and go, be they local or from far away.

There is systemic confusion about their housing on farmland and yes, oddly, it is all called “non-farm use.”

However, this is all about farmers, not farm workers, and why we all need more of them.

We had many pages of signatures on our petition, letters of support and a great gathering at the LTC meeting. Many of those islanders spoke up, and every single voice and letter supported this initiative. I know of only one person who expressed a concern over the perceived residential densification of farmland, something I am vehemently opposed to. It only took a few minutes of explaining the checks and balances we were proposing before he was satisfied and agreed that it was a solid plan.

Some farm wells are right now going dry, and our maple and cedar trees are suffering from drought conditions. Yet there is little movement towards a water management reduction plan/incentives for new or existing buildings. However, there is a massively expensive expansion plan of our sewage treatment facility in order to accommodate more of our drinking water.

I would like to suggest it is time for a change in focus.

Let us all support more farming and save us some water to do it with.

The writer owns Paradise Within Farm.

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