Tag Archives: agriculture

Saanich triples ALR dedication at Panama Flats

Saanich wants part of Panama Flats in agriculture reserve

Jeff Bell, Times Colonist

Panama Flats

In a rare step, Saanich council is trying to put land into the Agricultural Land Reserve instead of the usual practice of trying to take it out.

Just maintaining the existing amount of agriculturally designated land in B.C. is a common concern, but the Saanich plan calls for moving 14.5 hectares in Panama Flats to the ALR. An adjoining 8.5 hectares already has the classification.

The 14.5 hectares has been farmed for years but has never had ALR status.

“It was a somewhat historical event,” Saanich Coun. Dean Murdock said of this week’s public hearing vote to designate the parcel. “Local governments don’t often get the opportunity to add land to the Agricultural Land Reserve.”

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard said he has never seen it in the municipality during his 28 years as a councillor and mayor, and doesn’t recall it happening in the capital region.

The decision rests with the Agricultural Land Commission.

“legitimate concerns about the potential impact of an active farm surrounded by a residential area.”

“Of course, that’s always a challenge that communities face, particularly in Saanich where we have this interface between agriculture and residential, more suburban communities.”

Association vice-president Marlene Todd said one issue is a fear that the change to ALR designation could result in Saanich losing control over how the land is used. Councillors said that won’t happen, “but I’m a bit skeptical about it,” she said.

Another concern is the affect the change could have on migratory birds, Todd said. “They said they’re going to designate a small area for them, but this is a very sensitive area as far as the migratory birds flying north. This is where they stop.”

Murdock said councillors feel owning the land will help them avoid problems.

“What council was convinced by is we’re going to continue to have control as the landowner over what goes on there, so we can make every effort to mitigate the impact of farming.”

The parcel up for ALR designation is part of 25 hectares Saanich bought at Panama Flats in 2011 for $2.4 million from Island Berry Co. The company’s plan to farm cranberries raised flooding concerns for the municipality.

“The intent at the time of purchase was clear,” Murdock said. “We wanted to protect the flood plain and preserve the farmland for food production.

“We’re now, I think, clearing a fairly significant hurdle in order to ensure that it’s protected in perpetuity for food production.”

One of the next steps in the plan is to seek expressions of interest for the land. One large farm or a number of smaller operations are possible, Murdock said. No farming is going on right now.

Murdock said the Saanich plan also calls for a perimeter walking trail in the area as well as restoration work on the Colquitz River.

Council fails to speak up for residents on ALR removal

Saanich hands decision on Gordon Head farmland to Agricultural Land Commission
By Kyle Slavin, Saanich News December 11, 2012

The fate of an unused parcel of agricultural land in suburban Gordon Head is now in the hands of the Agricultural Land Commission.

The four-acre property at 1516 Mount Douglas Cross Rd. was recently slated to become a 12,000-hen poultry operation or, failing that, a cattle farm with 100 cows.

But neighbours, outraged that Saanich council painted the landowners into a corner where farming was the only remaining option, rallied against the aggressive farm plans and asked council Monday night for reconsideration of a residential subdivision instead.

Instead, council voted 8-1 to send the owner’s application to remove it from the agricultural land reserve to the ALC, without comment from council, putting the decision squarely in the hands of the provincial agency.

“It gets us back to (a point) where the development application is neither approved or defeated, and it gets us back to neutral on the land reserve issue, because (without comment) we literally are in a neutral position,” said Mayor Frank Leonard.

But John Alexander, the lawyer representing the Alberg family, which owns the property, says his clients are “quite disappointed” with council’s decision, and is urging the family to move forward on the cattle feed lot to protect their land.

“The land could get caught in the middle where all of the ALR usage rights disappear when it’s removed from the land reserve, and yet there’s no zoning that allows for residential development,” Alexander said.

He said the only options the Albergs have left are going the legal route and indicating to Saanich that they don’t want an application to go to the land commission until the property is rezoned residential, or go the farming route and begin construction of the cattle feed lot.

Some 150 residents jammed into the small council chambers Monday for the committee of the whole meeting, and only a handful of whom vocally expressed concerns to council.

“It makes no sense for this to remain in the ALR. It makes no sense that this should be a chicken farm or an intensive cattle farm,” said Stephen Fletcher, who lives across the street from the property. “If there’s a tasteful opportunity for it to be development, the community will endorse that.”

Saanich council twice rejected plans to develop the property, first in March 2011 when the Alberg family proposed 16-lot subdivision, and then again in July 2012, when the family proposed a 12-lot subdivision plus community garden.

Both times council rejected the development proposals, with a majority of council saying they don’t support residential development on farm land.

But the Mount Douglas Cross Road property, owned by siblings Don Alberg, Gord Alberg and Florence Davis, hasn’t been farmed in decades, noted Mercer Place resident Mark Vukobrat.

“If this property is taken out of the ALR there is no loss of food production because there’s been no food production on this land for some time,” he said, noting a petition he circulated in the neighbourhood saw 233 area residents say they’d rather have homes than an intensive farm nearby.

Alexander said, if necessary, the Albergs will contact the ALC directly and request that any application Saanich may send on their behalf should not be considered.

“(Council) came up with the motion (Monday night) with no notice to the owner, no opportunity for the owner to express their view on it,” Alexander said. “They really felt blindsided.”

Monday’s meeting was originally intended to focus on amending official documents in Saanich – the official community plan and the Gordon Head local area plan – which conflict in terms of land use plans for the Alberg property.

Coun. Dean Murdock, the sole dissenting vote at the meeting, said the motion to send the application, without comment, to the ALC is “a failure to the residents who elected us to represent them.”

“The discussion was pitched as black and white, but I think there was a large grey area that was unexplored,” he said. “What we’ve done is pack the whole thing up and send it to the ALC. That’s basically a recipe to unlock this (for residential development), and then it’s just a discussion around what kind of development goes here.”

Saanich South MLA Lana Popham, the NDP’s agriculture critic, spoke at the council meeting about smart farming. She said she felt Saanich “decided that this property isn’t a farm years ago,” by developing everything else around it.

The agriculture critic took the stance that, given its location, this property should be developed, instead of farmed.

“It’s a difficult choice that I’ve made, and I’ve probably disappointed some folks in the audience. As far as Saanich as a community, I think it’s a better direction to have a subdivision,” she said.

Coun. Judy Brownoff stressed that she doesn’t want to see a net loss if this parcel of land is removed from the ALR. “If land comes out of the ALR, equal value land should go back in,” she said, suggesting a portion of Saanich’s newly acquired Panama Flats that isn’t currently protected agricultural land.

Leonard, too, has previously suggested including more of Panama Flats in the ALR.

If all goes ahead as council anticipates, Leonard says the next steps in the process are for Saanich staff to send the application to the ALC. That process could take months.

In an email Alexander sent the Albergs on Tuesday, he said he doesn’t anticipate that ALC process to be complete until June or July 2013. He suggested moving ahead with the feed lot in January or February to preempt any ALC decision.

Protecting farmland the right call

Saanich landowner feeling henpecked
Saanich News October 17, 2012

The chickens aren’t coming home to roost, yet.

A Saanich family’s plan to open a chicken farm on their agricultural land has hit a stumbling block at the municipal level.

Gordon Alberg said his hands were tied after Saanich council twice denied his family’s request to developing housing on property at 1516 Mount Douglas X Rd.

So the family – Gord and his siblings Don Alberg and Florence Davis – went the route council suggested, and proposed a poultry operation that would house 12,000 birds in four barns.

Saanich’s planning department has now denied the family building permits, which Alberg says is all politics.

“They’re trying to have jurisdiction over it,” he said of his property, which is protected in the provincial agricultural land reserve but now sits astride a number of residential neighbourhoods south of Mount Doug Park.

Alberg hired a lawyer, John Alexander, after Saanich staff denied building permits on Sept. 28 due to problems with building sizes and property line setbacks, but not the potential poultry operation.

“This is agricultural land reserve land, and the majority of the concerns that (Saanich) raised simply do not apply to … farm uses,” Alexander said.

Alexander said while Saanich’s lawyers appear to be of the opinion that a building permit should have been issued for the chicken farm, there are still concerns about permitted building sizes and setbacks.

“I’m not convinced Saanich is right about the setbacks. All they’re going to do is drive the project to taller, higher more intrusive barns and more intensive activity along the property lines,” he said. “It’s like ‘be careful what you wish for,’ so to speak.

“The Albergs want to do this in the least intrusive way possible,” Alexander added. “They are committed to getting some productive use of this land, and it really will be council that will determine what the form of that productive use is.”

Saanich’s director of planning Sharon Hvozdanski admits there is conflict between the property as designated farmland while being zoned as residential.

“The use of the land is brought into question based on the existing single-family zoning, and also in regard to the use of the land for farming,” Hvozdanski said. “It’s our opinion that (land-use issues) haven’t been adequately addressed.”

On July 23, Saanich council voted 5-4 to protect farmland and oppose removing the property from the ALR.

The four dissenting voters argued that keeping the land in the ALR could result in a farming operation that would be more intrusive on neighbours than 12 homes and a community garden.

“If you want to save farmland you have to live with it being farmed,” Mayor Frank Leonard said at the time.

Coun. Dean Murdock, one of the more outspoken of the five councillors who voted to reject the housing proposal, stands by the decision.

“We have to stop carving up our farmland and turning it into asphalt-paved subdivision,” Murdock said.

“Our hope was that whatever farm process that might occur there would be a less intrusive farm practice (than a poultry operation) … and I regret the frustration and anxiety this has likely caused the neighbours, but retaining the farmland was the right decision.”

Sustainable Saanich Food Fest

Saanich hosts local food fest
Saanich News September 25, 2012

The Healthy Saanich advisory committee will host an event next weekend to help promote locally grown food.

“It’s an opportunity to showcase local food and local food producers. There will also be opportunities for people to learn more about growing their own food in their own yard or garden,” said Coun. Dean Murdock, who chairs the committee.

The free, family-friendly Sustainable Saanich Food Fest will include displays, lessons and presentations – on gardening and cooking – from Haliburton Farm, Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers, Lifecycles, Donald Street Farm and Saanich Organics.

“Healthy Saanich is keenly interested in local food and promoting local food, supporting our local growers, and we thought this was a great way to walk the talk,” Murdock said.

“I think it’s really important for people to get exposure about growing food and preparing local food, and knowing what’s available locally as part of the lower Island harvest.”

Kids will have an opportunity to learn some cooking skills, through Thrifty Foods’ Young Chef program.

The Saanich food festival happens Sunday, Sept. 30, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., where Darwin Avenue meets the Lochside Trail, behind the Saanich municipal hall.

Murdock says the location is a demonstration site for future trail-side pocket markets.

Last October, Saanich council discussed offering more opportunities to local growers to sell their goods, and the Lochside Trail off municipal hall was suggested as a prime spot for a makeshift market.

“I think (the Sustainable Saanich Food Fest) is a great way to open the door to having pocket markets at the municipal hall, which is really the community’s gathering place,” Murdock said.

Finding relief from cannons for neighbours

Saanich pressured to ban bird cannons
By Saanich News September 12, 2012

When Canada geese were continually attacking blueberry crops at Beckwith Farm in 2010, the farm launched its bird predation plan – which includes a noise cannon.

“The predator kites and other visual deterrents had no effect on the Canada geese,” said Wayne Hopkins, president of Beckwith Farm. “These geese were landing and eating the leaves. They killed somewhere around 12,000 plants in a matter of a few days. It all happened very quickly, so we had to employ noise devices very quickly.”

One such device was a propane cannon, which, when fired, creates a 130 decibel bang to scare birds away. The birds aren’t too fond of the noise, and neighbours near the farm aren’t either.

“It defies common sense to use propane cannons as a bird deterrent 200m from urban homes in long established Saanich neighbourhoods,” reads a brochure from the Concerned Neighbours of Beckwith Farm organization.

“The noise generated by propane cannons firing 200m from urban homes is debilitating to a large number of residents … causing significant impacts to health, livelihood and happiness.”

No propane cannons have gone off at the Blenkinsop Valley farm since 2010, and Hopkins credits that to the predation management plan. Cannons are used as a last-ditch effort when visual deterrents and other audible devices don’t work.

But neighbours aren’t content that there’s a chance the cannons could go off again, at any time, in the event of a new flock of birds swarms onto the nearby crops.

Saanich councillors Susan Brice and Nichola Wade brought forward a motion at Monday’s council meeting asking staff to look at options regarding cannons to mitigate friction between neighbours and the farm.

“The two of us feel we’re very supportive of agriculture in Saanich, however it is an inappropriate mechanism to use propane cannons in such a proximate distance to residential developments,” Wade said.

The two councillors mentioned ongoing frustrations dealing with the provincial government, as the use of propane cannons comes under the Ministry of Agriculture’s authority, and the Right to Farm legislation trumps municipal bylaws.

“Anything that can be explored that’s going to give the neighbours in this area some relief is worth putting on the table,” said Coun. Dean Murdock.

Hopkins says Saanich’s intervening is all politicking, and he anticipates the municipality won’t be able to get far with the province.

“The fact is (propane cannons are) a last report, and unless Saanich or whoever has a better alternative as a last resort, I think they’re here to stay,” Hopkins said.
Council unanimously agreed to have staff look into options.

Saanich looks at GMO ban

Saanich chews over genetically modified foods
By Saanich News September 11, 2012

After weighing in on such global issues as oil tanker traffic, plastic water bottles and shark fin soup, Saanich has now set its crosshairs on genetically modified food.

The Healthy Saanich advisory committee will host a public meeting next month to gather input from residents, members of the industry and people involved in food production on issues surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and seed crops.

“Healthy Saanich has a keen interest in local food, but it doesn’t have a particular expertise in the food industry. So we turned (the discussion) over to the Peninsula Agricultural Commission,” said Coun. Dean Murdock, chair of Healthy Saanich. “They came back with a recommendation that Saanich introduce a ban on GMO seed crops.”

While a ban is what the commission recommended, Murdock says actions taken could include a resolution that simply states Saanich doesn’t support genetically modified crops, a municipal education campaign or writing to the federal ministers in charge of agriculture and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

“Exercising the precautionary principle is how PAC arrived at its recommendation for a ban,” Murdock said.

From the advisory committee’s perspective, the unknown health effects of consuming genetically engineered food is worrying.
“There’s too much unknown about the implications. And a few studies in the last year suggested there may be some risk. … But there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence either way to suggest there is or isn’t a risk,” Murdock said. “The flip side of this, through genetic modification and genetic engineering, in some cases food has become cheaper, more accessible, and easier to produce.”

Earlier this year councillors in the City of Richmond endorsed a resolution opposing the cultivation of genetically engineered plants and trees. Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie told the Richmond Review that municipal governments don’t have much jurisdiction on the matter.

“The city does not have the enforcement powers here. So it is a statement of our intention of our consideration of the matter,” Brodie said.

Murdock acknowledged Saanich would be in the same position, should it support a ban. He added, however, that local government has a say.<.b>

“We’re simply saying, ‘this is an issue our residents have expressed concerns about,’” he said. “It’s not our intention to step into an arena where we have no authority.”

Anyone interested speaking prior to Saanich making a decision is invited to the Oct. 10, 7 p.m. meeting at Saanich council chambers, 730 Vernon Ave. Speakers are asked to register in advance by calling 250-475-1775 or emailing clerksec@saanich.ca. Written comments can be sent to the same email address.

Supporting local growers avoids global food spikes

Price of food goes up with the temperature
U.S. drought caused by extreme heat a sign of things to come, expert says
By Jeff Bell, Times Colonist August 19, 2012

The high price of corn, driven up by a searing drought in the United States, could be an indicator of more problems to come, says the executive director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions.

Tom Pedersen, who is based at the University of Victoria, says high temperatures in the States have taken their toll on corn crops. As a result, corn was at its highest price ever at the end of July, which was the hottest July in the continental United States since weather statistics have been recorded.

“It’s an extreme heat wave,” Pedersen said. “I can’t claim that it’s because of human-induced global warming, but what the scientific community would claim with extreme confidence is that what we’ve done is ‘loaded the dice.’ We can anticipate increasing frequency of heat waves like this, these extreme temperature events, in the future.”

Pedersen recalled the scenario in 2008, when rising corn prices led to riots in Mexico and across West Africa. In Canada, crop failures caused food inflation to go up by as much as 7.9 per cent.

“We might see a several per cent increase in our food costs here, but if you look at a country like Kenya or Mexico or Zambia – which have a corn-dominated basis for their nutritional supply – then the implications for those countries are far more severe than it is for us.”

Saanich Coun. Dean Murdock, whose interest is linked to his chairman’s role in the Healthy Saanich Advisory Committee, said the prominence of corn in many foods and its use as feed for livestock means store prices could take a real hit.

“It’s going to drive up the price of everything from cereal to meat. You can’t really avoid it at the grocery store.”

While it’s hard to say when the impact of damaged American crops could hit here, price jumps as high as four per cent were predicted for next year. Meat prices could rise even more.

“It’s a bit like earthquake-preparedness,” Murdock said. “It maybe isn’t top-of-mind until something major happens.”

Agriculture Minister Don McRae said in a statement that the diversity of B.C.’s food supply will make a difference in how any droughtrelated issues are felt.

“While B.C. consumers are affected by the laws of supply and demand, our agrifoods sector is Canada’s most diverse and produces a large variety of fresh and healthy foods.”

He said local food supply has taken on added prominence in recent years.

“The number of farmers’ markets has doubled in the last decade, and more and more artisan food producers are starting businesses in B.C. all the time,” McRae said. “With more than 200 commodities produced on land, and a further 100 from the sea, British Columbians have many locally grown options to consider for their meals, and changes in the availability of U.S. products may lead British Columbians to explore and enjoy more local foods.”

Still, climbing food costs bring international issues directly to Canadian dinner tables, Murdock said.

“From a regional perspective, it raises awareness about food security and the implications of global-commodity markets and food prices, right here on the Island.”

Thrifty Foods spokesman Ralf Mundel said the company is considering the implications for corn on two fronts: as a raw material in a range of products and as a key ingredient in locally produced baked goods.

He said the company has been told price increases are coming.

“However, as is typically the case, because we operate in an extremely competitive environment, the supply chain does try to absorb as much of the cost as possible. That being said, from a packaged-goods point of view, it’s a wait-and-see.”

Increases could show up sooner in baked goods, Mundel said. Otherwise, he said, the company is in a good position in terms of produce and other fresh foods because of its emphasis on buying from B.C.

“It really allows us to mitigate the effects of the U.S. situation,” Mundel said.

Murdock said there are lessons to be learned from the effect that outside forces have on our food supply.

“We likely will never be able to avoid [price increases] completely, but one of the ways to get around the uncertainty in the food prices is to bolster local food production.”

That has already been done to a certain extent, but what is happening in the United States “elevates the urgency,” Murdock said.

Local government can take action, he said.

“One of the ways that I think we can do that is not just deny applications to move land out of the Agricultural Land Reserve or the Urban Containment Boundary, but also try to make it more profitable for people to stay in the farming industry.

“You do that by creating a marketplace, creating locations where farmers can sell their goods locally, giving an advantage to local producers when you do your purchasing,” he said.

“Saanich is walking the talk with a local food-procurement policy that gives preference to local producers when we’re buying food for our events or at rec centres.”

Protecting farmland: Rejecting ALR removal on Mt Doug X Rd

Saanich Councillors voted against re-zoning property on Mt. Douglas X Road for a second time Monday night.
CFAX 1070 July 22, 2012

The owners of the property at 1516 Mt. Douglas X Rd wanted to remove it from the Agricultural Land Reserve and rezone it for 10 new units.

Councillor Dean Murdock says that isn’t going to happen.

“The one thing that sort of kept this [proposal] alive is that there was this language in the very dated Local Area Plan that says that this could potentially be removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve. That’s inconsistent with the language in our Official Community Plan.”

Murdock says staff have also been directed to change the language in the Local Area Plan to clarify that “council wasn’t prepared to consider forwarding an application again with respect to this property.”

The proposal was uninanimously rejected last year and again Monday night.

Promoting local food protects against global price spikes

It could get more expensive for Saanich families to put food on the dinner table this summer. The worst drought to hit the United States in nearly 25 years is threatening to drive up food prices around the world.

Corn prices will likely rise dramatically as mid-western farmers suffer enormous crop losses due to dry, hot weather. Corn is used in hundreds of products, affecting everything from the price of cereal to meat.

By supporting local producers and buying local food we can avoid sudden price increases on the grocery bill.

Protecting and enhancing local food production begins with our agricultural land. As our population grows, there is always pressure to break through our urban containment boundaries (UCB) and encroach upon agricultural lands. It compromises our food security and contributes to car-dependent sprawl. Saanich Council must continue to defend the UCB.

Instead of carving up our farmland as real estate, we should look for more ways to support our local farmers by keeping farming profitable. In Saanich, we’re changing out-dated bylaws to allow for more “pocket markets” to sell local foods. We have a policy to “buy local” for our recreation centres and special events. And, a Food Security Task Force will recommend actions to support local food growers.

We’re also looking for ways to grow our own food. Using public and private open space for community gardens gives urban residents a space to produce their own food. We’re looking at opportunities to use green roofs on new and newly-renovated development projects as community gardens too. The Saanich-owned Panama Flats could be used for new and small-scale farmers to produce local food.

We can defend ourselves against global food price increases. Let’s make local food affordable and abundant by protecting farmland from urban development and creating spaces to grow and sell food. Our food security depends on it.

Dean Murdock
Saanich Councillor