Chilliwack retiree to share unused farmland with urban farmer in need

Young Agrarians program is interested in fostering the next generation of farmers

A Yarrow retiree with property in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) is hoping to link up with a young urban farmer in need of the fertile farmland.

“It sounded like a good idea to me,” said David Huxley, about the Young Agrarians’ Land Matching Program.

“I thought young farmers would be a good mix.”

The land-linking effort is a pilot project led by the Young Agrarians in partnership with Farm Folk City Folk Society.

The goal is to create seven to nine new farm operations in the Lower Mainland region in 2018 with the help of a land-matcher, and secure, legal leasing agreements.

After moving to the Yarrow community of Chilliwack, from White Rock last year to enjoy his retirement near family, Huxley also wanted to see something useful done with the farmland. The previous owner had maintained farm status by raising sheep and growing hedging trees for sale.

Since graduating from UBC in Agriculture in 1970 and later earning his master’s degree, Huxley, an agrologist, has done a range of ag-related work from growing forage seeds, to advising farmers as a consultant, and running farm projects in Canada as well as overseas.

“I’ve always been in agriculture,” he said.

Huxley’s property has a barn, a greenhouse and a farmhouse, but he has no plans to farm the land himself.

This is the second year of active land-matching by Young Agrarians, matching up aspiring farmers from urban areas in need of space, with ag land-owners who have unused acres in the ALR.

READ MORE: Like Craigslist for farmers

The individual considering the Huxley land only has the paperwork outstanding at this point. He was growing vegetables on multiple garden plots in Vancouver for his market garden business, filling boxes of fresh veggies for an established clientele.

A global food crisis could be looming, and Huxley sees an urgent need to protect existing farmland.

So this program makes sense to him on several levels.

“I never really thought about it until I hit upon this program by chance,” he said.

The Young Agrarians Land Matching Program started in 2016 with training and developing resources for new farmers, says program land-matcher Darcy Smith of the Young Agrarians.

“Our mission is to grow more farmers,” Smith said.

It’s funded by the Growing Forward 2 framework with $25,000 from federal and provincial governments.

The way they do it is with networking mixers, business apprenticeships and mentoring meetups across B.C. and beyond, to bring new farmers and market gardeners together with owners willing to enter into agreements. They learn about land access, leases and financing and more.

Getting access to land is the “number one challenge” facing young, urban farmers trying to get a foothold in the industry, especially for those who don’t have a family farm, access to capital or equipment.

“It can be hard to get loans if you don’t own land.”

The farmers drawn to the Young Agrarians’ network are generally small-scale producers who grow ecologically or organically. They’re interested in food security, and a more rural lifestyle in some cases.

“They’re looking for one acre, or up to 100 acres of land. Those raising livestock need more than those growing vegetables,” Smith said.

They have seen a resurgence of people seeking smaller plots in recent years.

“They have a beautiful property,” Smith said about the Huxley farm in Yarrow. “It would have been a shame to let it go to waste.”

Chilliwack property owners who decide to participate in the land-linking program will be creating opportunities for the next generation of farmers, she underlined.

The average age of Canadian farmers in 2016 was 55, so they need to inspire the next generation of food growers and farm operators. Many will be selling their farms in the coming years, and about 70 young farmers are seeking land.

“This program could go a long way toward ensuring that the existing farmland continues to produce food for our communities,” Smith said.

Anyone interested in the program is advised to work a full season first to ensure they are ready, and check out the Young Agrarians website.

“If anyone is ready to take next step, they can reach out to me,” said Smith.

Send email to land@youngagrarians.org

See more at http://youngagrarians.org/


@CHWKjourno
jfeinberg@theprogress.com

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