With the future of farming hanging in the balance due to the high cost of real estate, a group has begun work in the Cowichan Valley to ensure new farmers have access to land.
Sara Dent, program director for the Young Agrarians, told North Cowichan’s council on Aug. 15 that the focus of the organization is to facilitate long-term lease agreements between landowners and new farmers ready to start farms through a land-matching program.
She said a pilot project has begun in the Lower Mainland that saw five land matches made in that area in 2017, and up to 10 matches are expected to be made by the end of 2018.
Dent said the Young Agrarians are looking to expand the program into other areas of the province, and has made the Cowichan Valley a focus for 2018.
She said a land matcher, who will work to screen farmland opportunities and farmers ready to start farm businesses, facilitate matches and develop legal contracts between the parties, has already been chosen for the Valley.
“As the inventory of program participants increases through outreach and engagement in the community and beyond, the number of farm businesses matched per year will also increase,” Dent said.
“It is projected that in year two of the program (in the Valley), five to seven matches will be made, and that number will increase again to seven to 10 in year three.”
Dent said pending confirmation of financial support, the project in the Valley would be a partnership between the FarmFolk CityFolk Society, Young Agrarians, Ministry of Agriculture, the Cowichan Valley Regional District and the Cowichan Green Community Society.
She said she hopes North Cowichan will also agree to be a partner as well.
“The future of farming presents huge challenges as less and less people get into it, which will lead to even more expensive food,” Dent said.
“About 74 per cent of existing farmers say they will sell their farms within the next decade as they retire, and there’s a lot of complexities to new farmers trying to take over the land. We work to pair up the right pieces of land with the right people, and also offer programs to teach people how to farm.”
North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure said he looks forward to more conversations between the Young Agrarians and the municipality about their project in the Valley.