How do you encourage young people to enter the farming industry at a time when agricultural land is limited and costly? You create creative partnerships between owners and agrarians.
That’s what the BC Government has been doing with its Land Matching Program (BCLMP).
Delivered by Young Agrarians, the BCLMP connects new, young and established farmers with landholders seeking to lease their properties to ensure their land stays in production or starts producing food. Since its launch in 2016 the program has helped more than 70 farmers, with 1,883.8 hectares (4,655 acres) brought into or maintained in agricultural production and a total of 81 land matches. Businesses can be matched to more than one property and have been made on acreages of all sizes – from less than an acre to large plots of farmland.
On Vancouver Island, Megan Henwood and Callum Bottrell are the latest beneficiaries of the program. Landholders Valorie Masuda and Alan Moore wanted to make their four-hectare (10-acre) property outside Duncan available for local food production. Henwood and Bottrell had a vision of creating a mixed farm, producing vegetables, duck eggs and herbs to supply their food truck operation. The BCLMP connected the two pairs and helped develop a lease agreement.
The young couple’s business is called Digable Roots. Henwood is a certified Community Herbalist and has worked on a Certified Organic farm for the last four years. Bottrell is a Red Seal chef who worked on a hobby farm for two years.
They pride themselves on operating in a pesticide and herbicide free environment, using sheet composting, crop rotation and companion planting for weed and pest control and soil amendment.
Their mission, say the couple, “is to establish a healthy and diverse farm ecosystem and for the farm to supply our own farm to fork food cart, as well as provide fresh produce and dried goods to the community.” The food cart they’ll bring to local farmers markets will serve sandwiches, soups and salads made from farm ingredients.
They joined Young Agrarians “because we knew that leasing would be the only way we could ever afford to start our farm business,” and say the program and the land-owners they’ve partnered with have been incredibly supportive.
Land matching a win-win for owners and farmers
“We were looking for a space where we could live and also farm,” says Bottrell, “because caring for livestock away from land is not practical. Our land matcher, Azja Jones Martin, met with us a few times and we viewed a few properties and got to know each other. Azja really understood what we were looking for and found us the perfect space in only six months. The terms of our lease agreement were discussed between the landowners, the land leasers (us) and the land matcher, which gave us the opportunity to understand what each party expected. We signed a five-year lease with the ability to extend or terminate based on how things are going. This gives us the chance to start our long-term perennial crops like asparagus, artichokes and figs that will take a few years before we see a harvest, allows us to benefit from the long-term farm infrastructure that we build and encourages us to create a soil we want to work with.
Since then, Young Agrarians has mentored us through its Business Mentorship Program and helped get our farm name into the community. We have learned this year that it takes time to establish a farm and leasing land makes start-up more affordable and gives us time to shape our space into what we want it to be.”
Henwood and Bottrell note the relationship with their landlords has become personally rewarding as well. “We raise pigs which are on a rotating pasture and have a mixed diet of grain and vegetable scraps,” says Bottrell. “Care for the pigs is shared between us and the landowners since we both had similar interests in raising them and now we have 10! There’s also an established and somewhat old apple orchard of about 25 trees on the land when we moved here, and we plan to also share that harvest with Valorie and Alan.”
Encouraging lease agreements supports food sovereignty goals
As the COVID-19 pandemic spurs consumers to more mindful purchasing decisions, farmers have seen huge increases in sales this spring and summer (2020). While they’re benefiting from increased consumer demand, the public is also learning more about food sovereignty and how important it is to encourage agricultural growth and arable land use in regions across Vancouver Island.
“I’m so excited that we’re helping B.C. farmers find affordable and accessible farmland to put into production so we can have more fresh, local food in our communities,” said Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture in a recent media release. “Whether they are new farmers, or established farmers who need more land, each farmer has their own unique criteria when looking for farmland. The services delivered by Young Agrarians are so valuable in bringing people together and making these matches that meet everyone’s needs.”
The BCLMP is part of Grow BC, a mandate commitment of the Ministry of Agriculture that supports young farmers and food producers seeking a career in agriculture and addresses major challenges for new farmers, which includes gaining access to land. The program is also part of the Province’s larger New Entrant Strategy, a framework for increasing the number of new and young farmers working in B.C.’s agriculture sector.
90% of the matches arranged through the program are in regions with high real estate prices, including Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and the Okanagan.
The total number of matches (81) made in B.C.:
- Metro Vancouver/Fraser Valley: 26
- Vancouver Island: 24
- Okanagan: 21
- Columbia Basin: 6
- Central and northern B.C.: 4
This year, 18 matches were finalized on 1,583 hectares (3,911.6 acres) of land:
- 9 on Vancouver Island: Metchosin, Saanich (two matches), Central Saanich, Yellow Point, Cobble Hill, Nanaimo, Somenos and Gabriola Island
- 8 in the Okanagan: Armstrong, Kelowna, West Kelowna, Barnhartvale, Naramata, Kaledon, Salmon Arm and Vernon
- 1 in Central/North: Williams Lake
The new businesses farm vegetables, sheep, goats, cattle, grain, hay, flowers, berries, eggs, tree fruits, buffalo dairy, honey, medicinal herbs, mushrooms, among others.