Metro Vancouver Unveils Regional Food Strategy

Metro Vancouver unveils regional food strategy

Plan includes establishing a farm school, creating a label for locally produced foods

By Randy Shore
Vancouver Sun
September 10, 2010

Metro Vancouver has developed an ambitious regional food strategy that includes creating a centre for excellence in food technology, a label to identify locally grown foods in retail stores and a school for sustainable agriculture at Colony Farm Regional Park.

The draft report, delivered to Metro's agriculture committee Thursday, notes that B.C. produces less than half the food that its citizens consume and that external forces such as changing climate and rising fuel prices will challenge our ability to feed ourselves in the future.

“The idea is to develop a resilient food system and enhance our food security,” committee chairman and Richmond Coun. Harold Steves said. “We want to cover the inefficiencies of the global food system by developing food security here at home.”

Regional Food System Strategy proposes that municipalities create property-tax-exempt agricultural enterprise zones to encourage processing and distribution businesses to locate near farmland.

“We want to encourage urban agriculture and get local farms to convert from global agriculture to local agriculture,” Steves explained.

Farmers will not be convinced to wean themselves from the global food market until they are confident that local markets exist and that a reliable value chain is in place to purchase their crops for local processing and distribution.

“After World War 2 the movement in the world was to go to factory farms and a global market for food,” Steves said. “It will take time to reverse that.”

Some of the more ambitious goals outlined in the report, such as a centre for excellence and a food labelling system to allow shoppers to identify locally made products, will require the assistance of the provincial and federal governments, but Steves says many of the projects can be accomplished with local resources.

To promote urban agriculture, the report suggests Metro purchase farmland in or out of the Agricultural Land Reserve to lease to new farmers and for use as farm schools. Richmond has purchased 296 acres of agricultural land and Steves would like to see Metro follow suit by creating a land trust of its own to keep viable farmland from being gobbled up by developers and non-farm uses.

“We could use development cost charges to raise money to buy the land,” he suggested.

Buying land isn't the only way to expand the agricultural land base.

The City of Richmond and Kwantlen University's Institute of Sustainable Agriculture operate the Richmond Farm School at the Terra Nova Rural Park. Metro is establishing an experimental farm at Colony Farm Regional Park in Coquitlam and could convert more space in other regional parks governed by Metro to agricultural uses.

“The provincial government doesn't exactly approve of [Metro] buying farmland for farms, but we are able to buy farmland for parks, so we buy the land, call it a park and then we farm it,” Steves said, referring to a strategy employed successfully to save part of the Terra Nova lands from development.

To discourage the development of prime farmland for commercial and residential use, Surrey requires that every acre of farmland removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve for development be replaced with two acres, a policy Steves would like to see spread to other Metro municipalities.

The report is open to public comment until Oct. 24.