Editor’s Note: This month’s Guest Editorial by BC Association of Farmers Markets (BCAFM) President Jon Bell, originally sent as a letter to the BC Minister of Agriculture, was provided to The Local Weekly for publication. As agriculture forms an increasingly important component of our Coastal economy, and as food security continues to be a concern, the BCAFM position on proposed changes to BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve contained in Bill 24 is worthy of careful consideration by all residents. We all have to eat. The question is – what value will we place on the security of our food source? – Heather Jeal, Editor
I am writing on behalf of the British Columbia Association of Farmers’ Markets (BCAFM) to convey our concern regarding the lack of public consultation leading up to the announcement of Bill 24 and the resulting impacts on BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). British Columbians are stakeholders in this decision and our opinions and concerns regarding food, farmers and farmland must not be underestimated or overlooked in this consultation process.
BC’s farmers’ markets work tirelessly in all corners of the province to strengthen local economies and provide British Columbians with fresh, healthy local agricultural products. Our ability to continue to deliver these benefits into the future, however, is tied directly to the availability of agricultural land throughout the province. As one of our members stated, “protecting the ALR is central to protecting and enhancing what our local farmers’ markets exist to support – healthy and strong communities and food systems.” Our member farmers’ markets in the North and Interior specifically have expressed concern that Bill 24 will directly threaten their regionally focused agricultural initiatives and thereby threaten the very viability of farmers’ markets in their area.
The proposed changes in Bill 24 not only threaten the viability of farmers’ markets, they threaten the economic and social benefits that markets deliver to the communities they support.
In an era of climate change, significant urban expansion, concerns about local food supply, food safety and sustainability, the BC government and Agricultural Land Commission must look at ways to encourage farming. Permitting non-agricultural industrial activities on ALR land will only fragment and degrade remaining viable land, leading to greater challenges for farmers in accessing agricultural land. That being said, we support changes that will specifically help farm and ranch operations to be financially successful.
This is more than just a farming issue, and our farmers’ markets are at the centre of it. The BCAFM requests that the government not vote to enact Bill 24 and its amen dments, and that changes to the ALR take place in consultation with the agricultural community as a whole.