Protecting farmland is in everyone’s interest

Food security is about bringing greater awareness of food issues and ensuring that Richmond’s citizens have control over their food and food choices.

A fundamental tenet of this work is strengthening farming. In order to have a strong farm economy we need a healthy and productive land base and farm community. Recently, it has come to a tipping point where our stewards of the land can no longer focus on the difficult and risky task of food production and must now become vigilant against the loss and contamination of prime agricultural lands.

Even with an ever growing urban land base, Richmond has managed to retain agricultural land and activities over the past hundred years. While the original settlers of Lulu Island were agrarians, fisher folk and pioneers; the City has transformed into a municipality that has been proud of its agricultural legacy. As of the 2011 Census, a total of 5,563 ha of land was zoned agricultural (570 hectares) or was within the Agricultural Land Reserve (4,993 hectares). Of this total land base, 3,072 hectares of Richmond land were farmed by 211 farms which grossed $48.6 million.

A growing issue, made visible by local farmers and residents down at Finn Rd, is around putting improper fill materials (concrete, asphalt, rebar, red bricks, plastic, and gas filters) of unknown source onto agricultural lands that have a high potential for contamination. Without knowing the actual components, there is a definite need to have certification for fill that is going to end up on agricultural lands. It’s not often discussed, but soil is effectively a non-renewable resource as it takes generations for healthy productive soils to develop. As well, due to our region’s flood plain nature, we no longer have the accumulation of silts and clays that would naturally occur from occasional flooding.

Last Monday evening, a number of farmers and community members attended the city’s general purposes committee and it was clear that mayor and council were equally perturbed by the lack of enforceable rules and powers to deal with siting fill on agricultural lands. While a stop-work-order was issued, the provincial capacity to address farm and non-farm issues is stretched.  The need for local and flexible oversight is abundantly clear and we should continue to support our Richmond staff, elected officials and farmers for their efforts in achieving local control and long-term vision of sustainable agriculture.

It is certain that the placement of fill and use as a road will ensure that this land base will no longer have the ability to grow food.

If the proposed tree nursery fails, the cost of remediation of land, including – proper disposal, building soil fertility, and continued monitoring and testing for contaminants, would be beyond the ability of any farmer to take on. Nor does it appear that the accountability for this loss of productive land falls to the landowner or to the province.

Other municipalities, such as Langley, have implemented bylaws that require a permit for removal and deposit of soil which have helped address these issues.

This upcoming Monday evening, Jan. 28, Mayor and Council will be voting on a stronger soil bylaw.  Protecting farmland is in everyone’s interest. Speak in favour of local control over farmland by attending this important meeting. Food security in our region continues to be an issue. By eroding our farmlands with contaminated materials we harm ourselves and future citizens’ ability to achieve a sustainable food system.

Richmond Food Security Society works to ensure that all people in the community have access to safe, nutritious, culturally appropriate foods that strengthen our environment and society.

If you want to contribute and learn more about our activities, visit our website at www.richmondfoodsecurity.org

Colin Dring is executive director at Richmond Food Security Society.

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