Researcher requests Chilliwack support for agricultural land use study

A university researcher is recruiting municipalities for a regional food system study. The City of Chilliwack is not participating.

A university researcher is recruiting every municipality from Vancouver to Hope to create a regional food system. The City of Chilliwack is not participating, because of a belief that most agricultural lands are well used here.

Southwestern B.C. has many hectares of underutilized agricultural land that is a billion-dollar missed opportunity, according to Kent Mullinix, a director at Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Institute for Sustainable Horticulture.

“I know that there is significant income to be generated for our local regional economy, and many many jobs to be created, and many many small- and medium-sized businesses that will emerge from developing a substantial regionalized food system,” says Mullinix.

A few years ago, his research team discovered that approximately 15% of Surrey’s agricultural land reserve is underutilized, and could be put into production. Were it farmed, it could create hundreds of jobs, and double Surrey’s agricultural revenue.

Mullinix has now set out to design a “roadmap” for farmers, consumers, entrepreneurs, and governments to follow in the effort towards regional food self-reliance, a three-year project that has already raised $1.1 million of its $1.4 million goal. Abbotsford, Langley, Maple Ridge, and Vancouver, have all signed on, and the University of Fraser Valley is one of six institutions leading the research.

Mullinix pitched the concept to the City of Chilliwack in late 2012, and requested a city project liaison and a $12,000 contribution.

Although Mayor Sharon Gaetz says she was “very excited” about the initiative, she doesn’t believe it would be a significant benefit to Chilliwack.

“For the city of Chilliwack, it’s not a big deal. Our cupboards are full. We have a lot of food lands here,” says Gaetz.

The problem, Gaetz says, is restricted to lands further west, where industrial development has taken over a large share of arable land.

“Now they’re scrambling looking for food lands.”

Two-thirds of Chilliwack’s land lies in the agricultural land reserve. But people purchasing a piece are under no obligation to farm it. The result is that only 60% of the 16,982 hectares that make up Chilliwack’s ALR land have farm class, according to BC Assessment. Another 2,000 or so hectares of agricultural land in the city are deemed “vacant.”

ALR land that doesn’t meet its agricultural potential is well suited to creating a labour-intensive, local regional complementary food system, that reduces the region’s food imports and creates jobs, says Mullinix. The biggest obstacle he is having is people seeing the potential beyond a transnational commodity food market.

But another big, practical challenge is finding people willing to work the land.


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