How ya gon’na help ‘em stay on the farm

Farmers want to grow Throne Speech promises

Farmers on Vancouver Island, and in the Cowichan Valley and Cedar areas were happy to hear agriculture mentioned in the Throne Speech, delivered by Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon on Tuesday, Feb. 9.

They don’t need convincing that agriculture is a key sector in B.C.’s economy, even if it represents a fraction of the dollar value generated by resource industries like forestry and mining, and doesn’t have the new age allure of high tech.

So now the seed has sprouted, they are more than happy to provide a little fertilizer and water to make sure it grows into the sunlight of a new dawn. How much has homegrown been overshadowed in B.C. by imports from agribusiness titans like California and Mexico?

“Vancouver Island used to produce 85 per cent of its own foods in the early 1900s” said Mayta Ryn, president of the Nanaimo-Cedar Farmers’ Institute. “Now I think we produce seven per cent.”

So as far as she is concerned, we have a long way to go, getting back to square one.

Guichon said the Liberal government under the leadership of Premier Christy Clark is committed to:

• increasing financial support for the Agricultural Land Commission;

• offering tax credits to farmers who donate food to non-profit organizations;

• encouraging and supporting British Columbians to “Buy Local, Grow Local.”

Laurie Gourlay, president of the Vancouver Island & Coast Conservation Society said the Liberal government’s attention to supporting local agriculture is welcome.

“This is what we need, more attention to local food production,” he said. He confirmed the narrow slice of the sales pie chart Vancouver Island farmers occupy, and said the time is ripe for turning things around.

“I’m not sure we could get back to 60 or 70 per cent in the next year, but we could do it in the next 10 years,” Gourlay said.

Ryn said small scale farmers in places like Vancouver Island need to have a voice on the BC Agricultural Commission. Right now they only have a ‘partial seat’ and their representative is appointed, not selected by the farming community.

“We would like a more formal way to address the ministry,” she said. “We don’t get invited to the table.”

Both Ryn and Gourlay mentioned the need to provide financing for small scale farmers – especially for young farmers, starting out.

“Small scale farmers have a real problem because it’s difficult to get financing,” Ryn said. “It’s a huge issue.”

Support for farmers’ markets that could operate year-round, and which would have facilities to help them process and promote their products, would give local growers opportunities to build demand.

Canadian agriculture, according to Ryn, is evolving toward a model where local, community farmers supply local demand; and large scale agribusiness is directed mainly to export markets.

As for the argument that locally grown and raised food will cost people more, Ryn said: “They’re going to be paying more anyway.”

“Agriculture is going to be a big deal,” Ryn said. “We’re actually well poised to be a big player in agriculture, not only to ship to the world, but to feed our own people.”