Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham announced today (Sept. 18) at a Parksville farm that the provincial government is committing $300,000 to support the B.C. Land Matching Program.
The B.C. Land Matching program aims to address a lack of affordable farmland in the province by connecting new and young farmers with local landowners.
Through the program, that is delivered by Young Agrarians, a program of the FarmFolk CityFolk Society, land matchers are assigned to Vancouver Island, Metro-Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, the Okanagan and the Columbia Basin to work with farmers, landowners, local governments and agricultural organizations.
The support and services offered by land matchers range from hosting land-linking events to developing relationships with landowners, land seekers and community leaders, to facilitating negotiations and terms of the leasing arrangement with the support of a lawyer between landowners and land leasers.
“The program will help new and young farmers and landowners, which ensures good farmland is being farmed and increases the province’s food security for British Columbians,” Popham said. “We see land owners that haven’t had an interest in farming but they certainly have an interest in having their land farmed, so we need to take that new energy and come up with innovative ways to use it.”
Popham made the announcement at Parksville’s Salt & Harrow farm, which is owned and operated by Seann Dory, who demonstrates how success can be obtained in B.C.’s agriculture sector through land-linking.
Dory met Kris and Maria Chand, of Blue Heron Organic Farm, through a Young Agrarians’ land-linking workshop. The Chand’s were interested in leasing out extra land, and Dory was looking to lease some farmland on Vancouver Island to get it into production. Kris and Maria are certified organic farmers, who were interested in leasing land to someone else who shared similar values and would manage the land in the same fashion.
“We didn’t really have the funds to be able to purchase a piece of property, so being able to meet somebody and have a deeper discussion on what a lease would look like long term, with the eventual goal of owning the property, is pretty key to our business success,” Dory said. “Putting down a down payment when you’re starting a farm business is pretty daunting. This kind of helps new businesses get into the game.”
Dory has been running the farm for about three years now, producing certified organic produce for farmer’s markets on Vancouver Island and the Mainland. He also distributes his food to local and Island restaurants.
During the announcement, Popham said the average age of farmers in B.C. is going up.
According to stats from the Ministry of Agriculture, in 2016, the average farmer was 55 years old, while farmers under the age of 35 represented 9.1 per cent of total farmers, up slightly from 8.2 per cent in 2011.
“I used to hear over and over again that farmers are getting old and nobody wants to farm,” she said. “I can agree that farmers are getting older but I don’t agree that people don’t want to farm. I think that we have this new energy around farming and we only have to look towards the Young Agrarians to see the networking that’s happening with people that are from B.C and coming from outside B.C. to get some dirt under their fingernails.”
Sara Dent, program director with the Young Agrarians, said the group’s land matchers are ready to support farmers and farmland owners with match-making, networking events, business supports and lease agreements.
“If you have farmland and you’d like to see it producing food, or you’re a farmer looking for land to lease, please reach out to Young Agrarians,” Dent said.