New Ag Plan Offers Reason To Hope

When the Hope Food Collective undertook a Community Food Security Assessment in 2016, there was a clear and consistent message from residents seeking more local options with more control over the source and quality of their food.

Unfortunately, with its surplus of under-utilized agricultural land and lack of supportive policies, the District of Hope had a long way to go to meet these expectations. So, with the help of IAF’s Agricultural Area Planning Program, the District formed an Agricultural Advisory Committee and began the process to strengthen and promote its local food system.

And with recent endorsement by City Council, the new Hope Food and Agriculture Plan now offers a ten-to 15-year blueprint for guiding the long-term development of agri-food systems in Hope!

According to project manager Brittany Ekelund, the plan reflects extensive consultation and presents a shared vision to support both new and existing agri-businesses and enhance food security for everyone.

“The plan is a long-range strategy for increasing the use of agricultural land for farming as well as establishing and scaling-up the local food and agriculture value chain,” says Ekelund. “The plan takes a food system approach and considers all aspects of the value chain from production, processing and direct-sales to celebration and food recovery.”

Priorities captured in the ambitious new plan include maintaining Agricultural Land Reserve boundaries and discouraging subdivision, expanding processing infrastructure, establishing a regional food hub, encouraging ecologically responsible agriculture practices and creating a branding strategy for Hope food and agriculture.

The regional branding initiative is already underway, offering logos and other marketing materials to government, business and education sectors. With access to new tools, Hope producers and processors can more easily tap into larger regional markets, fulfilling another key priority identified during consultations.

“During the 2016 assessment, local producers expressed a need for a consistent, viable market for their products, so we really wanted our plan to offer specific avenues for improving marketing opportunities,” explains Ekelund, adding that they are also focused on creating a more supportive and inclusive farmers’ market.

For Ekelund, increasing collaboration, communication and educational opportunities is the most important path forward in building a strong and sustainable industry, especially when it comes to recruiting new talent to the local ag sector.

“Hope offers an appealing option for innovative, young or new agriculturalists interested in small-scale agriculture,” she says. They can take advantage of our current low cost of agricultural land relative to the Lower Mainland, location for easy distribution and excellent water quality and soil health.”

And for added incentive, the District hopes to host a workshop series for farmers, processors and artisans to learn practical business skills and is also exploring ways to help producers navigate government regulations and permitting requirements to responsibly grow their operations.

“We’re trying to build a network of farmers that can work together to support each other, pool resources, develop products and expand market share for the benefit of the entire community,” Ekelund emphasizes.

Funding: $13,000 provided through the former federal-provincial Safety Net Fund. (B0016.47)

Protecting the Future of Food & Farmland in Kelowna

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)

Kamloops Plans Ahead

When the City of Kamloops completed its first Agricultural Area Plan in 2013, there was an abundance of action items that lay before it.

One of the most pressing was the development of an Agriculture Water Demand Model that would increase understanding of agricultural water use and bolster BC’s commitment under the Living Water Strategy to reserve water for farmland.

A water demand model is a management planning tool that calculates current and future agricultural water demands for areas within the Agricultural Land Reserve and areas zoned for agriculture within the City. Crop type, irrigation system type, soil texture and historical climate data are all used to calculate current water demands and to project future demands using various climate change scenarios.

With federal and provincial funding delivered through IAF’s Agricultural Area Planning Program, the City was able to complete the water demand modelling exercise in 2016.

For Jason Locke, Community Planner Supervisor with the City of Kamloops, having a resource in place that clarifies water use issues is vital for any long-term agricultural planning.

“The water demand model provides a better understanding of the opportunities and issues related to crop irrigation,” says Locke. “This information can be used by the local agricultural industry to improve agricultural productivity and potentially see more land available for production…from a sustainability perspective, the City sees the model as an important tool to encourage water conversation and enhance local food production.”

Included in the comprehensive report are climate change scenarios developed by the University of British Columbia and the Summerland Research and Development Centre. Among other predictions is an increase in agricultural water demand due to warmer and longer summers, as well as lower precipitation during summer months.

Using three climate change models, researchers were able to determine that in an extreme climate scenario, there is potential for the annual water demand to increase by up to 18 percent than that experienced in historically dry years.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Researchers also discovered an opportunity for significant water reduction by converting irrigation systems to a higher efficiency for some crops. Drip systems, for instance, can be used for all fruit and vegetable crops, as well as some other horticultural crops.

Marvin Kwiatkowski, Director for the Development and Engineering Services Department, is thrilled the City now has a blueprint to facilitate future research projects.

“Access to current and accurate data will allow the Kamloops agricultural industry to put additional land under cultivation,” Kwiatkowski predicts. “The benefits will include increased food production in the region and associated economic benefits, as well as increased food security for local residents.”

As part of the project, the City was also able to complete a Land Use Inventory which gives administrators a better understanding of current agricultural land use and production, as well as an online soils database that offers the agricultural community accurate mapping of potential agricultural land and capability.

An Agricultural Toolkit, including the Agriculture Water Demand Model report, soils mapping and Land Use Inventory is available at www.kamloops.ca.

Funding: $5,000 through the former federal-provincial Safety Nets framework. (B0016.23.02)

Getting the Lay of Land Use

Before embarking on something new, you must first determine where you are. Marketers use surveys; community planners use land use inventories.

When local governments need to make land use decisions, they go to their Official Community Plan (OCP) for guidance. Agriculture Land Use Inventories provide the background material for OCPs. They help planners understand the type and extent of agricultural activities; determine capacity for expansion; quantify any Agricultural Land Reserve land unavailable for agriculture; and estimate agricultural water demand.

In the Cariboo region of B.C., planners need to update two of the region’s five OCP’s to not only better reflect the changing needs of the community, but also to better protect the area’s San Jose Watershed.

In the summer of 2014, the development  of the ALUI and use of the Agriculture Water Demand Model were funded through IAF. BC Ministry of Agriculture agrologists, in collaboration with a Cariboo Regional District GIS technician, used a “windshield” survey method to prepare ALUI’s in the South Cariboo and Lac La Hache regional districts. From the road, they observed agricultural activity, land use and land cover. Where visibility was limited, they used aerial photography in combination with local knowledge.

“We will be making the Agriculture Land Use Inventory available to the community during the OCP consultation process,” states Alice Johnston, Corporate Officer with the Cariboo Regional District. “People need to be aware of not only the current role agriculture has in their communities, but also the potential.”

FUNDING: $6,682.24 through the former federal-provincial Safety Nets framework. (B0016.40)

Lillooet Unveils Agricultural Area Plan

Lillooet was once the tomato capital. Today, ranching and forage crops dominate the local agricultural scene and the community is taking a closer look at agriculture’s future.

Last fall, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District adopted an agricultural plan for Lillooet and the surrounding area, known as Area B. This was the culmination of a two-year planning project partially funded through IAF’s Agricultural Planning Program.

Twenty-eight per cent of the Lillooet region’s population live on reserve land. According to the plan’s authors, the extensive input of the local indigenous community makes this plan unique amongst agricultural plans in BC. That’s a sentiment shared by Mickey Macri, a director of the regional district.

“We’re especially pleased by the involvement and support of the northern St’át’imc communities,” says Macri. “This plan is a true collaborative effort.”

Early stages of the project focused on getting an accurate picture of the current state of agriculture, including an inventory, GIS mapping and water modelling.

This information formed the basis for public dialogue with local citizens and agricultural stakeholders to focus priorities and identify action items. The plan was officially adopted by the regional district’s board in October, and has since been endorsed by the District of Lillooet. The St’át’imc have endorsed the process. The area covered by the plan is St’át’imc territory.

While local agriculture has had its share of ups and downs, it is now being viewed for its economic development potential.

“This plan is important because it assembles in one place the information about this unique agricultural area and makes it available to potential investors,” says Travor Chandler, a small organic orchardist in Lillooet and a member of the Area B agricultural advisory committee since it was created. “This should guide a shift in the use of agricultural land to higher value crops which generate more employment.”

Kevin Whitney, chief of T’it’q’et, one of the six St’át’imc communities invited to participate in the process, says exploring agriculture’s economic development and employment opportunities got him interested in collaborating. Unemployment is high within St’át’imc communities.

“We will use this experience, and the relationships we built with the regional district, to continue to pursue our goals of economic development and governance in our territory,” says Whitney.

With the planning complete, attention now turns to implementation. There are plans afoot to give the working group a role in implementation and a coordinator is being hired this summer to assist with the priority action items, including a new farmers’ institute.

The Lillooet agricultural plan can be found online at: www.slrd.bc.ca

Funding: $25,000 through the former federal-provincial Safety Nets framework. (B0016.35)

A Fresh & Growing Plan for Agriculture on the Sunshine Coast

The completion of an agricultural area plan by the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) could be the beginning of an agricultural revival in the region.

The main impetus for the plan stems from a regional sustainability plan approved in 2011, which identified food security as one of the main pillars for achieving sustainability, and set a goal of 20 percent food self-sufficiency by 2020.

A background report produced in 2012 focused on the agricultural opportunities and challenges in the region, and formed the basis for an extensive public engagement effort that shaped the final agricultural area plan.

“This is probably the most collaborative plan ever developed by the Regional District,” says Gregory Gebka, planner with the SCRD. “It throws it out to the community to really come forward to cooperate and collaborate in its implementation.”

So far community groups have been eager to pick up the challenge. The local food policy council is using the plan to focus their efforts on action items having relevance to food policy, including the development of a community food charter. The Sechelt Rotary Club has identified agriculture as their area of focus for the next year. Within the agriculture community, local producers are now considering establishing a local farmers’ institute to help organize their involvement.

The plan identifies 109 action items grouped in six areas of focus to grow agriculture in the region:

  • Protect farms, improve farming opportunities, and expand access to land for agriculture.
  • Secure a sustainable water supply for agriculture.
  • Develop a viable Coastal food system.
  • Educate and increase awareness of Coastal food and agriculture.
  • Advance and promote sustainable agriculture practices.
  • Prepare for and adapt to climate change.

“When it comes down to it, the ag plan is all about increasing Coastal food production and consumption to enable a more sustainable food system on the coast,” says Gebka. “This is a great opportunity for leaders to come forward and express themselves in terms of what they represent in the community, and what the ag plan aspires to do.”

Funding: $45,000 through the former federal-provincial Safety Nets framework. (A0690, B0016.37)

East Kootney Ag Plan

When the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) started the process of developing an agricultural area plan, one of the major challenges was getting an accurate picture of what was being farmed and where.

Situated in the southeast corner of BC, the regional district is dominated by the Rocky Mountain Trench and three mountain ranges. Before starting the planning process, the RDEK received funding to complete an Agricultural Land Use Inventory (ALUI) with the BC Ministry of Agriculture.

“The ALUI provides a tangible resource to work with,” says Karen MacLeod, planner with RDEK. “It gives us statistical information that is relevant and current, and maps the distribution of different types of commodities and animals being farmed across the region.”

Having a more complete picture of agriculture across the RDEK has helped inform the process as the regional district works with community and stakeholder groups to develop their agricultural area plan.

Community response to the process has been very good. It has helped the regional government overcome the challenge of developing one plan for a region where communities are spread out and agricultural activities are highly localized.

“If nothing else, the agricultural area plan process is bringing some awareness to the broader agricultural community,” says MacLeod. “It is a sector that has been quite divided for a number of years, and we hope that this plan can reflect some common vision and goals for this group.”

The RDEK Agricultural Area Plan is expected to be completed by Fall 2014.

Funding: $42,969 through the former federal-provincial Safety Nets framework. (A0655, B0016.33)

Agcitement Around Kamloops Ag Plan

In 2010, when the City of Kamloops adopted their Sustainable Kamloops Plan, one of the top priorities for the community was agriculture.

The people wanted a better understanding of where agricultural land was in their community, how it should be used or enhanced, and what opportunities were available for increased food production and processing. After two years of extensive consultation, the final version of the Kamloops agriculture area plan is expected to be adopted in early 2014.

“We were starting from nothing. Kamloops hasn’t had a plan or dedicated process to look at the agriculture sector,” says Maren Luciani, planner for the City of Kamloops. “We acknowledge that over the past 20 to 30 years there has not been a great municipal process to support agriculture.”

The plan identifies 72 action items categorized into six over-arching strategies. One of the top priorities has been to bring city bylaws and policies into alignment with those of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) on issues like agri-tourism, which the ALC allows, but the city has not.

They will also be doing more work on agricultural awareness and education for the public, recruiting new farmers to support succession planning, and developing an agricultural edge strategy to reduce urban/rural conflict.

No dust will gather on this plan. Before it was officially adopted work had begun on the next step.

“A step further to supporting the agriculture industry is to develop a targeted community-wide food strategy,” says Luciani. “Through the consultation we learned there was a real desire to do that, and the process is starting already.”

Funding: $25,000 through the former federal-provincial Safety Nets framework. (B0016.23)

AG Plans for Vancouver & Gulf Islands

Increasing public awareness about food and farming on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands has translated into two recently completed Agricultural Area Plans.

The Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) adopted its agricultural area plan in October 2012, and is working towards implementation.

According to senior planner, Lainya Rowett, the idea originated when the public raised concerns about agriculture while the RDN was updating its Regional Growth Strategy and official community plans.

“Doing the agricultural area plan was absolutely essential to starting to address peoples concerns about agriculture. They want to know what the future of food looks like in our region,” Rowett explains.

The planning process was followed closely by local media, and generated a lot of comment and input from people in the region.

“This document is the voice of our communities, including people who are interested in local food, whether they are eating it, growing it or selling it,” says Rowett.

On Denman Island, the investment in the Denman Island Farm Plan is already paying off.

“I recently met a young woman who moved to Denman because of the Farm Plan,” says Courtney Simpson, Regional Planning Manager (Northern region) with the Islands Trust. “She wanted to farm with her partner, and saw that Denman was a community that valued agriculture. That’s a huge benefit when one of the concerns is attracting young farmers.”

The plan was completed and adopted in November 2012, after nearly three years of consultation and research. The resulting document is a practical roadmap for the future, speaking to how farmers, consumers, and government can contribute to viable and vibrant farming activity on Denman Island. A copy of the plan is available at islandstrust.bc.ca.

Funding: $53,891 through the former federal-provincial Safety Nets framework. (B0016.30, B0016.31)

Abbotsford Agriculture Strategy

Agriculture generates one out of every five jobs in Abbotsford and has a direct economic impact of $1.8 billion annually. With that many eggs in one basket, the City of Abbotsford wanted to develop an agriculture strategy to drive the future growth of this vital industry.

“Abbotsford has a truly fundamental connection with agriculture, both as a viable economic enterprise and as a defining element of our culture and way of life,” says Mayor Bruce Banman.

Through IAF funding, a strategy development project was launched in 2009 under the guidance of Abbotsford’s Agriculture Advisory Committee and the BC Ministry of Agriculture.

The first phase involved background research, mapping and the development of a land use inventory. This then formed part of an extensive profile of agriculture within the community.

Digging up input from the agriculture sector and the broader community was next. Public consultations involved interviews with community groups and industry stakeholders, seven workshops with agriculture and processing sectors and four neighbourhood meetings.

Over the following months, all of the recommendations were distilled into an issues and opportunities paper and additional feedback was sought on priorities, culminating in a draft strategy.

Each of the specifics of the strategy went through an extensive review before the strategy was presented to council and approved in May 2011.

“Abbotsford’s Agriculture Strategy will help ensure that agriculture continues to prosper and grow by increasing productive farmland for food production, protecting the agricultural land base and attracting agricultural innovation and public support for this valued resource,” adds Mayor Banman.

With a robust new strategy in place, attention has now turned to taking action on the highest priorities.

The city is already working on an agri-industrial study that will look at policy options for enhancing value-added opportunities. A rural area plan will start next year. Other groups, such as the University of the Fraser Valley, are leading on some of the other priorities identified.

“Now we have to sink our teeth into some of the key issues Abbotsford faces and use this strategy as a guide,” explains Marcus Janzen, a greenhouse grower who chairs the Advisory Committee. “That’s a good thing for Abbotsford, the citizens of Abbotsford and especially its farmers.”

Funding: $30,479 provided through former federal adaptation programming. (A0577)