Agricultural Area Plan Open House Brings Out Nearly 100

Saturday's Open House to showcase the new North Saanich draft Agricultural Area Plan was considered a great success with nearly 100 people attending. Mayor Finall and Councilors Chandler, Commandeur (herself an organic blueberry grower), Scoones and myself joined members of the North Saanich Agricultural Advisory Commission (AAC) (Chaired by Barb Brennan of Bailiwick Farm), consultant Derek Masselink and other local farmers, growers and agricultural enthusiasts as we all crowded into Council Chambers at the municipal hall to mingle, browse displays, hear the consultant's presentation, nibble on local finger foods and share opinions about what it takes to successfully support local agriculture.

There are as many opinions about how best to promote local farming as there are flowers to count in Victoria in spring. Some farmers seem skeptical (and you can hardly blame them) about how local governments can really help farmers and farming when so many of the issues they face are to them much more about rules and regulations at the regional, provincial and national levels. Such topics as farm assessments and tax regulations, land use and development, multi-nationals and agri-marketing, land values and availability, food inspection control/regulations, lack of local meat processing capability and transportation are just a few of the daunting challenges that many farmers and others believe do more to obstruct farming than encourage it.

Farmers and growers warn that if we (communities and governments) don't soon do something meaningful to make farming more viable, there will be no farms left to pass to next generations. Canadians will rely more and more heavily on multi-nationals and big box stores to provide off-shore food -- and we're told that can be a high risk dependency, especially here on Vancouver Island if there is ever a major catastrophe and all transportation links are severed.

These reasons and more are all part of the decision by North Saanich Council to take a pro-active approach to agriculture by becoming, I understand, the first municipality in the CRD to complete its agricultural area plan (I'm also told that Central Saanich is in the process of planning and Salt Spring Island completed their plan over a year ago). North Saanich's Plan involves five key strategies:
  • economic viability
  • leadership and governance
  • protection and stewardship
  • education and training
  • community health
Participation of the AAC, an on-line public survey, two community dialogue sessions and interviews with North Saanich agricultural producers and stakeholders formed key parts of the consultation process that ended with Saturday's Open House. Survey questionnaires were also handed out to Saturday's participants and the feedback will be integrated into the final Plan draft, ready sometime in March for presentation to North Saanich Council. Please watch for the Council agenda where the final draft will be presented and discussed by Council and visit the North Saanich website to read or download a copy of the current Plan draft. Kudos and thanks to municipal staffer Lisa Coburn who helped so much with putting this event on. Thanks too to the AAC and to Councilor Anny Scoones.

For more information or if you have questions, please contact Barb Brennan or Councilor Anny Scoones through the municipal hall at 250-656-0781.