The City of Kelowna is looking forward to their agricultural future, thanks to their newly updated ag plan.

After an 18-month planning process and extensive consultation with both industry and residents, the city’s sustainability coordinator, Tracy Guidi is confident the revised plan reflects the values of a community that holds agriculture at its core.

“Agriculture is such an integrated part of the culture of our city, whether you are a farmer or not,” says Guidi. “And with over 55 percent of our land zoned for agriculture, it is critical that we take steps now to preserve and promote local agriculture and ensure its long-term sustainability.”

With the original plan created in 1998, a modernized framework was desperately needed to provide what the city calls “clear policy and land use direction” that will ensure city agricultural policies are up-to-date, align with the official community plan and reflect recent changes to the Agricultural Land Commission Act.

According to Guidi, safeguarding local agriculture, stewarding natural resources for food production, improving public awareness and access to local food, and identifying opportunities to strengthen farming as an economic driver were all prioritized during consultations.

“Preserving farmland in the face of increasing urbanization was identified as one of the most pressing issues,” she noted, adding that even land in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) is at risk as it tends to be flat, affordable, geographically appealing and often ideally located, making it desirable for urban development.

For city councillor Tracy Gray, discussion over agricultural land has been fraught with conflict.

“Almost half of our land base is in the ALR so we see the agriculture-urban issues frequently,” she explains. “It creates tension and uncertainty for farmers, residents and among neighbors close to that land.”

In an effort to alleviate some of the pressure, the new plan will focus on updating mapping tools, increasing opportunities for locally grown food, preserving local rural character and building community resilience towards climate change and the rising costs of food.

A total of 51 specific actions are recommended in the new agricultural plan, ranging from targets like restricting non-farm uses on farmland to exploring alternative ownership models to boost production.

So far industry response to the revamp has been overwhelmingly positive, with support from the BC Fruit Growers’ Association (BCFGA) and the provincial Agricultural Land Commission, to name a few.

BCFGA president, Fred Steele is highly appreciative of the city’s leadership on the issue.

“The BCFGA is pleased to support and endorse the agriculture plan developed by the City of Kelowna,” says Steele. “We believe the plan reflects the current situation and promotes the economic contribution of the agriculture sector in Kelowna, and we are excited to work with the city on its successful implementation.”

The new ag area plan can be viewed at www.kelowna.ca.

Funding: $18,590 provided through the former federal-provincial Safety Net Fund. (B0016.43)