Save the Farm… Again

Today is the 10th annual Farmade, a party at the UBC Farm with burgers, beer, bands and general merriment. Y’all should go.

Remember a few years back when there was this big huge thing about Saving the UBC Farm? If not, don’t feel bad, because a whole generation of students has come and gone since that all happened. In a nutshell, UBC has a 24 hectare farm in south campus. That land was slated for condos, like much of the land at UBC. People who liked the farm were not keen on that idea and they got over 15,000 people, and Metro Vancouver, to agree that the farm should be stay as a farm. After a few years of fairly relentless fighting, questioning, demonstrating, and petitioning, UBC’s Board of Governors agreed to keep the farm as a farm, with a few strings attached. The farm was “saved” and would continue to be a farm for the foreseeable future. Case closed, for now.

Here’s an idea to make the future of the farm even more secure: put it into BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), “a provincial zone in which agriculture is recognized as the priority use. Farming is encouraged and non-agricultural uses are controlled.”

Why might this be awesome? Because of this: “The Agricultural Land Reserve takes precedence over, but does not replace other legislation and bylaws that may apply to the land. Local and regional governments, as well as other provincial agencies, are expected to plan in accordance with the provincial policy of preserving agricultural land.”

UBC’s board, or whatever local government gets installed here, wouldn’t be able to simply change the designation of the farm’s land to use it for other purposes. They would have to apply to a provincial commission to get it out of the ALR designation first. It provides a nice extra layer of bureaucratic protection for the farm. Now, there may be drawbacks to this idea; I have no expertise on the intricacies of managing land in the ALR and there may be drawbacks that make it not worthwhile. But I really think it’s an idea worth serious consideration by those who are invested in the farm’s long-term future. While support for the farm is strong from the current administration, and UBC did reaffirmed its commitment to the farm in last year’s Land Use Plan revisions, things could change over the course of 20+ years. An ALR designation would put an extra roadblock in place in case future administrators have a change of heart about the value of the farm to the university and to the community.

There might even be a way to get UBC to support this plan. Two years ago, UBC bought about 100 hectares of land in Kelowna, adjacent to the Okanagan campus. All of that land is currently in the ALR.

Until UBC can get it out of the ALR, the new land will remain a unicorn sanctuary.

If UBC ever wants to do non-farm activities on the Okanagan land (presumably that is the case), they’re going to have to get that land removed from the ALR. This might be an opportunity to engineer some sort of land swap arrangement: UBC agrees to put 24 hectares of new land (UBC Farm) into the ALR at the same time they’re taking 100 hectares (UBC Okanagan) out. A win-win.


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