Agriculture & ALR

What is the ALR?

[With thanks to the Farmland Protection Coalition]

In 1973, the BC government created the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), an autonomous board sworn to protect agricultural land in BC from being developed and lost forever as viable farmland.  The  4.5 million hectares of protected arable land, held in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), could only be removed from the ALR with approval from the ALC.  The ALR was considered essential as thousands of hectares of the best farm land were being lost annually to real-estate subdivisions and other industrial and commercial purposes – in a mountainous province where only 5% of the land-base was suitable for food   production.  In the ensuing 40 years, the ALR has become known in North America and around the world as a forward-thinking and effective planning tool.  It is the envy of policymakers in many other jurisdictions.

Since the creation of the ALR, land owners wishing to  alter private land or put it into use for  non-agricultural purposes  must seek approval from the Agricultural Land  Commission (ALC), an  arms-length public agency entrusted with a  mandate of supporting agriculture.

Threats to the ALR

On Nov. 7, 2013, The Globe and Mail reported:  "Information obtained by The Globe and Mail shows that B.C. Agriculture Minister Pat Pimm is preparing to ask cabinet to endorse a plan to "modernize" the ALC, an independent Crown agency, which has overseen and protected about four million hectares of farmland for 40 years.  Under the plan, the ALC -- long a thorn in the side of developers who want to free up farmland -- would move within the Ministry of Agriculture, apparently ending its autonomy from government."  The Globe and Mail, Thursday, November 7, 2013

BC’s farmland is scarce, comprising less than 5% of the provincial land base. In an age when we must grow as much food as we can locally, preservation of farmland, and support of the farmers and ranchers who grow our food, is crucial.  This is basic food security, and will contribute to resiliency in the face of climate change.

Public opinion favours farmland protection for BC.  In a 2008 Ipsos Reid Poll, 91% of British Columbians from across the Province responded that “It is important that BC produce enough food so we don’t have to depend on imports from other places” and 95% of respondents said they support the ALR and the policy of preserving farm land. When asked about acceptable reasons for removing land from the ALR, 61% of respondents said there were no acceptable reasons.

One of the avenues being considered by the BC government is to include local government in more of the decision-making regarding ALR inclusions and exclusions.  But local governments may be unwilling or unable to protect our agricultural lands, so we need a province-wide strategy:  the ALR, a zoning tool based on soil and climatic potential; and the ALC, an independent quasi-judicial organization administering and protecting the ALR lands.

Today,  in the face of climate  change, rising energy costs and growing  awareness of the public health,  social, and environmental benefits of  local food production and  consumption, the ALR and ALC are more  important than ever.

Other Benefits of the ALR include:

    •    Low taxes for agricultural lands;
    •    Ground water recharge lands;
    •    Migratory bird habitat;
    •    Local bird habitat;
    •    Habitat for amphibians in streams and ponds;
    •    Fish habitat in streams;
    •    Old fields with significant habitat for insects – most are beneficial;
    •    Habitat for pollinating species bumble bees and honeybees in hedgerows and old fields;
    •    Second growth forest patches for raptors and owls for pest control;
    •    Areas of groundwater discharge, springs and seepage zones for irrigation catchment;
    •    Carbon sequestration;
    •    Areas for community composting and manure placements;
    •    A feeling of security, beauty and community well being;

All of this is lost or severely compromised when we pave over and develop agricultural land.

To sign an online petition asking Premier Christy Clark to withdraw plans to modify or scrap the Agricultural Land Commission, click here:

 Agricultural Land Reserve By the Numbers

With thanks to the Farmland Protection Coalition

Food Security and Vancouver Island

Percentage of BC’s land base made up by agricultural land:  less than 5%

Percentage of BC’s food requirements provided by BC agriculture:  over 50%

Percentage of Vancouver Island’s food needs produced by Island growers 50 years ago:  85%

Percentage of Vancouver Island’s food needs produced by Island growers today:  10%

Estimated  number of hours’ worth of food on Vancouver Island should the food supply chain to the Island be cut off for any reason, such as an  earthquake:  72 hours

Why the ALR is Important

Year the Agricultural Land Reserve was established:  1973

Number of hectares of agricultural land being lost in BC annually before 1973:  6000

Average number of hectares of agricultural land excluded from the ALR each year since 1973:  616

Number of hectares of agricultural land excluded from the ALR between 1973 and 2012:  133,000

Number  of hectares of agricultural land included in the ALR between 1973 and  2012:  176,000 (most being in the northern 2/3 of BC)

Total number of hectares in the ALR in 1973 and today:  just over 4.6 million

Ratio of prime agricultural land (CL1 1-3) land included between 1973 and 2014, to prime agricultural land excluded:  1:3 (quality of ALR land has declined)

Percentage of ALR land the provincial government wants to continue protecting with the current regime (Fraser Valley, Okanagan Valley, southern Vancouver Island):  11%

ALR Makes Farmland More Affordable to Farmers

Percentage increase in farmland values in BC in last five years (according to Farm Credit Canada’s Farmland Values report):  5%

Percentage  increase in farmland values in same time period for Alberta,  Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario respectively:  38%, 80%, 60%, 71%

Percentage increase in farmland values for Canada as a whole in the same time period:  63%

Percentage of exclusion applications to the ALC (to take land out of the Agricultural Land Reserve) which are from property owners who are not farmers:  over 90%

Percentage decrease in the number of census farms in BC, according to the 2011 agriculture census:  0.4%

National average decrease of census farms:  10.3%

Contributions to BC’s economy

Approximate number of farms and ranches in BC:  20,000

Percentage of BC’s farms and ranches that are family-owned and operated:  98%

Number of commodities produced by BC’s agriculture sector:  over 200

Number of jobs in BC’s agriculture, fisheries and processing sectors in 2012:  62,000

Annual revenue in that sector:  $11.7 billion

Farm cash receipts generated annually in BC by agriculture:  $2.4 billion

Percentage growth in farm receipts from crops in 2012:  8%

Percentage growth in livestock sector in 2012:  7%

Percentage growth in direct sales to consumers between 2006 and 2012:  147%

British Columbians’ Views of the ALR

Number of British Columbians  who believe it is “important that BC produces enough food so we don’t  have to depend on imports from other places” (according to 2008 Ipsos  Reid Poll):  91%

Percentage of Ipsos Reid Poll respondents who support the ALR and the policy of preserving farmland:  95%

Percentage of Ipsos Reid Poll respondents who said there are no acceptable reasons to remove land from the ALR:  61%

North Saanich Agriculture By the Numbers

[Source:  Economic Development Strategy for Agriculture for NS (2011)]

Fraction of the total land base in the Agricultural Land Reserve in North Saanich:  1/3

Ranking of NS of any municipality on Vancouver Island for highest average annual farm income:  1

Ranking of Central Saanich of any municipality on Vancouver Island for highest average annual farm income:  2

Average annual gross farm receipts for a farm in NS:  $119,674

As compared to Vancouver Island as a whole:  Twice the average

Percentage growth over the last 20 years of total area being farmed in NS:  10%

Number of hectares being farmed in NS, according to the 2006 Census of Agriculture:  1226 hectares (3030 acres)

NS land being farmed as a percentage of the total area being farmed in the CRD:  9%

NS population as a percentage of total population of the CRD:  3%

Percentage increase of gross revenues for NS farms over the last 20 years:  212%

Number of farm operations classified as such in the District of NS tax rolls:  135

Number of weeks of paid labour on NS farms in 2005:  5114

Ranking of the agri-food sector as a growth sector in the Capital Region labour market:  2nd highest

Percentage growth of the agri-food sector in the Capital Region labour market between 2001 and 2005:  17%

Total farm capital in NS in 2006:  $113,234,538

Farm wages paid in NS in 2006:  $3.5 million

 What’s the Difference Between a Garden and a Farm?
It’s a tougher question than you think.


A community garden in New York City. Or is it a farm?

Photo courtesy Charley Lhasa/Flickr

From Slate Magazine, //

By Andrea Crawford

"Calling  the vegetables growing in a fancy hotel or in  a private windowsill a  farm rather than a garden may sound crazy, but  that may be the point."

The Urban Agriculture Conference’s   Manhattan farm tour—as in the central borough of New York City, not   Manhattan, Kan.—called into question everything I knew about farming.   And as a former farm kid, I know a little something about farming. I   know, for example, that my family’s Indiana cornfields look nothing like   the rooftop of the Waldorf Astoria.

Vegetables  growing on the roof of a luxury hotel on Park Avenue are a  potent  symbol of the popular appeal of urban agriculture. But the  inclusion of  the Waldorf Astoria on a farm tour demonstrates just how  far the term farm  is being stretched these days. As I stood  among the bees, herbs, and  vegetables overlooking the terrace of the  suite where Marilyn Monroe  stayed, I exchanged glances with the New  England farmer next to me, and  we agreed: The rooftop garden was  sublime, but it was not a farm.

What’s  the difference between a garden and a farm? The popularity of   small-scale sustainable agriculture, particularly in an urban setting,   has blurred the line between the two. Even agricultural experts can get   confused. In December, U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary   Krysta Harden told a conference of young farmers at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture   in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., that she knows diversified growers sometimes   hear from their local Farm Service Agency representatives that they  are  not farmers. Officials don’t always know what to make of those who  grow  small quantities of three-dozen crops instead of huge quantities  of just  one thing.
Confronting  an assortment of plants on an acre of land, many  Midwestern farmers I  know would also call that a garden. Size matters,  it seems. Yet size  lies in the eye of the beholder. At the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference in November, a community gardener from Brooklyn, N.Y., insisted to me that something so large as an acre could only be a farm.

Convention  holds that a farm requires a tractor or the presence of  animals. But  such distinctions fail when chickens and goats live in a  community  garden or when a 1,000-acre family grain farm has nary an  animal in  sight. Some people will say that location matters, that if  it’s in a  backyard, it must be a garden—just don’t tell that to Wally  Satzewich  and Gail Vandersteen, who sold their rural farm after  realizing they  could make more money growing in an urban setting. They  describe their  business, called Wally’s Urban Market Garden, as a “multi-locational sub-acre urban farm.”

Unspoken  hierarchies of class, gender, and race are at play in the  definitions,  too. To call someone’s farm a garden (with its feminized  connotation),  a hobby farm (with its elitist connotation), or  subsistence farm (with  its impoverished one) can carry a whiff of  superiority.

Out  of this morass of stereotypes, a useful distinction emerges: A  garden  produces food for private use, whereas a farm produces food (or  flowers  or fiber) for others. This idea gets closest to how the USDA  defines a  farm: “any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold”   in a given year. The only definition that matters to a farmer who  wants  to qualify for a federal grant, loan, or subsidy, it nevertheless   surprises many people, since it means that a container planted with   herbs counts as a farm if those herbs happen to be sold for $1,000 a   year.

The  Waldorf Astoria certainly produces a quantity of food worth more  than  $1,000. That the hotel uses the products itself rather than selling   them at the nearest farmers market is a mere technicality.

A quarter-acre lot full of milk crates seems as unlikely a location  for a farm as the roof of a hotel.
But  that is where Zach Pickens, the  full-time farmer at Tom Colicchio and  Sisha Ortúzar’s Riverpark  restaurant on Manhattan’s east side, grows  produce—and the space happens  to be the same size as his grandparents’  garden in Ohio, where Pickens  first learned to grow plants.

Does  Riverpark, the second stop on the Manhattan farm tour, meet the  USDA  threshold? “Oh, I’ve got that,” Pickens says, explaining that the  farm,  which grows exclusively for the restaurant, tracks what it  provides  using prices equivalent to what it would pay to specialty  purveyors or  at local markets—where microgreens, for example, can sell  for upward of  $125 per pound. To Pickens the difference between farming  and  gardening is clear. In farming, he says, “You’re practicing  agriculture  in order to make money.”

That  act of making money—not just producing, but selling—determines  the  difference between gardening and farming, for the USDA and most   farmers, too. Even those who farm with the primary goal of improving the   environment or building community believe that a financially robust   enterprise is fundamental to the mission. As Richard Wiswall, author of The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook,   argues, true sustainability includes making a profit. At Riverpark   Farm, says Pickens, “We want urban agriculture to be successful. We want   people to see this and say it makes sense from a production and an   economic standpoint.”

But not all places called farms make money. Does that mean they aren’t the real thing?

On  a visit to New Roots Community Farm in the Bronx, N.Y., it  certainly  appeared that way to a fortysomething aspiring farmer from New  Jersey  who took one look at the half-acre site and said: “This sure  doesn’t  look like a farm.” With a few small beds for individuals to use  as they  wish, it looked just like a community garden. But according to  program  manager Kathleen McTigue, New Roots has a mission different from  a  traditional mission of community gardens, such as improving   neighborhood aesthetics or providing space for public activities. “The   goal really is to use it as a training site for food production,” she   said. The farm is a program of the International Rescue Committee; its   purpose is to help resettled refugees translate their agrarian   backgrounds into job skills while addressing food-security issues in the   neighborhoods in which they now live.

New  York City Housing Authority, which runs all public housing in the   city, has similar aims. Last year, in partnership with the nonprofits   Added Value and Green City Force, NYCHA (which already has more than 600   community gardens for its residents) opened the first “large-scale urban farm”   on its property, at the Red Hook West housing development. In these   examples and others, activists and organizers want to grow food and set   up markets in the service of providing greater access to healthy   produce, improving education and health, conducting job training, and   eradicating poverty.

They want, in short, to change America's food system. And to do so, many choose the word farm over garden   because of its connotations. As Ian Marvy, co-founder and executive   director of Added Value, says: “It’s the metaphor to explore issues of   sustainability, scope, scale, financial concentration, community   control, equity, environmental degradation, global warming.” (It also   doesn’t hurt that “It’s more cool to call it a farm than an educational garden,” says Pickens, who interned on an Added Value farm.)

Naming  is an act of power. Calling the vegetables growing in a fancy  hotel or  in a private windowsill a farm rather than a garden may sound  crazy,  but that may be the point. The marketing potential of the word farm   is significant—having a farm attached to one’s business can raise its   profile as well as its profits. But for many growers, calling their  site  of production a farm, no matter how small, no matter what form  that  production takes, no matter whether they sell at a profit or give  food  away for free, is much more than good business or smart branding.  It’s a  deliberate attempt to change public perception, policy, and the   paradigm of food production.

Agriculture  must expand, many farmers, activists, and policy experts  agree, if the  planet is to feed its growing population while confronting  climate  change. At the USDA, Deputy Secretary Harden told me by email,  “[W]e  are excited about what the next generation of farmers is bringing  to  the table. Never before in the history of American agriculture have  we  seen so many different types of farmers.” As agriculture starts to  look  more like Riverpark restaurant and the farms in New York City’s  public  housing, that needed expansion is well underway.

At  Red Hook West Urban Farm, when someone says, “Let’s go over to the   garden,” Marvy gently corrects them. “Yeah,” he says, “let’s get over   to the farm.” He will not need to correct me. But, given where I come   from, I must draw the line at Park Avenue: I don't think I’ll ever be   able to call the Waldorf Astoria a farm.

Andrea Crawford is a New York City-based journalist, writer, and former magazine editor.

Food Security in North Saanich

[A guest editorial by Bernadette Greene originally published in the Peninsula News Review, April 12, 2013] 

According to the American Farmland Trust, the U.S. is losing farmland at a rate of one acre per minute.  “America’s cities sprang up where the land was the richest.  Today, the farms closest to our urban areas produce an astounding 91% of our fruit and 78% of our vegetables but they remain the most threatened… And our prime agricultural land  the farmland that has the ideal combination of good soils, climate and growing conditions  are being converted at a disproportionately higher rate.” Given that most of our food comes from the U.S., those are alarming statistics in themselvesbut I suspect that the ones for Vancouver Island would not be much different. 

One need only look at aerial photos of Sidney and area between the 1950’s and today to see how the inexorable march of development has claimed farmland.  A few decades ago, farms existed in Sidney – now there are none.  

In fact, 50 years ago, Vancouver Island produced more than 50% of its own food – now that number is less than 10%.  Not only is this a missed economic opportunity, but it’s also a potential food security crisis.

The average B.C. resident spends $260 per month on food.  With about 11,500 people living in Sidney, and approximately that many also living in North Saanich, that adds up to more than 70 million food dollars per year being spent by those residents, with a large proportion of that expenditure going to the U.S. and Mexico, where most of our food comes from.  An acre of farmland intensively managed can produce $40,000 worth of food per year, while reducing the negative environmental impact associated with food transportation. 

Many development proponents are quick to say that “nobody is wanting to develop agricultural land”, and some of them make the distinction between protecting ALR land, but not agricultural land.

Take, for example, the Reay Creek Meadows proposal.  The proponents plan to take 6 lots totaling 13.5 acres, now zoned Rural Agricultural (but not in the ALR), rezone it Comprehensive Development, and build a total of 114 units.  The application for 9395 East Saanich Rd. also proposes building 40 units on land zoned Rural Agricultural.

The RCM land at this time is flat and mostly cleared, and has some agricultural activity on it.  The soil is rated Class 3, meaning it supports a fairly wide range of crops, and, with some drainage, could be improved to Class 2, supporting an even wider range of crops.  More importantly, the lots are small, making them more accessible to young farmers wanting to acquire good farmland in this area.  Of course, it’s easy to be in favour of protecting ALR land, when you’re not allowed to develop it anyway.  But what if it’s no longer protected by the ALC? 

Have you driven past the airport lately?  That land is also in the ALR, but because it’s federal land, those ALR restrictions are pretty much ignored.  Only a few short years ago, a local farmer was haying that land, but now the only things that grow on it are large warehouses.

So, while some may say that they’re not “coming after our agricultural land”, it looks to me that that is all they’re coming after.

With the population of the planet expected to reach 10 billion by the end of this century, how long can we count on the US and other areas to provide our food? We have everything we need here to feed ourselves, and provide meaningful work and economic growth.  With good planning, we can accommodate more people here, and feed them as well.  It’s not selfish or backward-looking to plan for the future food security of our children and grandchildren.  Saving our agricultural land for future use is no different from setting aside money now in an RRSP or pension.  It’s merely prudent and responsible to do so.

An Open Letter to Premier Christy Clark

The Free Press: posted Feb 16, 2014

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.


The Real Estate Foundation of  B.C.
Jack Wong
Chief Executive Officer