Letters to the Editor

Open letter to Premier Clark on the Agricultural Land Reserve

Dear Premier Clark,

Re: ALR Core Review

We are writing this letter to encourage the Province to create opportunities for public input into proposed policy changes concerning the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

Preserving land for food production is essential for current and future generations of British Columbians. The ALR was established over 40 years ago and remains an iconic example of foresight and vision, helping British Columbia to feed itself in the current era of changing weather patterns, global warming and escalating petroleum prices. Almost five per cent of land in B.C. is protected to ensure agricultural land will be available in perpetuity to grow the fruit, vegetables, poultry, dairy and beef that British Columbians and others from around the world recognize for quality, safety and wholesome food choices. B.C.'s vibrant agricultural industry helps sustain our province in other ways too, currently generating nearly $12 billion annually for the provincial economy.

The Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia supports real estate and land use practices that contribute to resilient, healthy communities and natural systems. We provide grants and information to non-profit organizations working to improve B.C. communities through responsible and informed land use, conservation and real estate practices. Since 1988, the Foundation has invested over $65 million in land use projects across British Columbia. Sustainable Food Systems is one of our three grant making priorities.

To date, we have had the opportunity to work with approximately 500 groups throughout the province non-profit, government, private sector, First Nations and community stakeholders all working in partnership to support progressive, sustainable land use practices. Many are examining questions related to land access and policies that relate to sustainable food systems in B.C.

For example, in 2011 the Foundation funded the Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria to undertake research and consultation to explore how to preserve farmland in the Capital Regional District. That year we also provided a grant for Kwantlen Polytechnic University to design a bio-regional agri-food system for southwestern B.C. Researchers estimate that in Surrey alone, increasing agricultural productivity of underutilized ALR lands would create almost 2,500 jobs and more than double Surrey’s agriculture industry.

In 2012, we funded the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC to conduct research to examine alternative land tenure models for cooperative and community farms in B.C. We also provided funding to the Young Agrarians to create a resource map and land access guide that supports new farmers, particularly young people looking to start farming operations. We have assisted the Community Futures Development Corporation of Fraser Fort George's efforts to identify land lease models for new farmers and provide farming options and training for central and northern B.C.

More recently, the Foundation funded the B.C. Food Systems Network to undertake public outreach and education about the importance of farmland protection in B.C.

The Foundation is a major supporter of the 2014 B.C. Land Summit, entitled "Collaborations & Connections". This interdisciplinary conference, which expects to host over 1,200 participants, will provide learning opportunities for land-related professionals. "Food and agriculture" is a key theme of the conference.

These are just a few examples of the progressive and important work being undertaken to foster healthy, resilient food systems in regions across the province. Ensuring the protection of farmland for the benefit of all British Columbians is a vital element of sustainable, local food systems.

This sentiment is also backed by public opinion surveys, where 90 per cent of British Columbians felt government should limit urban development to protect farmers and farmland, and 72 per cent believed it should be difficult or very difficult to remove land from the ALR. Another poll indicated that 95 per cent of British Columbians support the ALR. (See the Viewpoints Research public opinion survey from 1997 and an Ipsos Reid poll in 2008.)

Without protection, farmland can be lost to irreversible uses during an era when British Columbians are becoming increasingly concerned about where their food comes from. The ALR remains an important legacy for the Province and an economic powerhouse that other jurisdictions around the world have come to study and admire.

Farmers, ranchers, academics, local-government, consumers and the public have valuable insights about the ALR and the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC). We encourage the Government of B.C. to ensure opportunities for a comprehensive public consultation process if any major changes to the ALR or ALC are being considered.

Sincerely,

The Real Estate Foundation of  B.C.

Jack Wong

Chief Executive Officer

 

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