NORTH PENDER ISLAND
OFFICIAL COMMUNITY PLAN REVIEW
AGRICULTURE – STAKEHOLDER VIEW
Respectfully Submitted to the Local Trust Committee By:
Barbara Johnstone Grimmer, Fir Hill Farms
2310 Grimmer Road, Pender Island, B. C. V0N 2M1
On behalf of the Farmers of Pender Island
MANDATE: TRUST SHALL….PRESERVE AND PROTECT AND ENCOURAGE FARMING, SUSTAINABILITY OF FARMING AND RELATIONSHIP OF FARMING TO OTHER LAND USES
History of Agriculture on Pender
(from Gulf Islands Patchwork)
The Pender Islands (North and South Pender) are part of the Islands Trust group of outer Gulf Islands that are between Victoria and Vancouver. In the late 1800’s the islands were settled with farmers who cleared and farmed the fertile valley areas for grain, hay and produce and also grazed livestock. Before the steamer service in 1900, everything went by small boats. Cattle showing on Pender began when AH Menzies entered an Ayrshire bull in the Victoria fair in the year 1901. Victor Menzies showed the animal and they received second prize. Some poultry were also entered and the Buff Plymouth Rock cock was awarded first prize, while pullets were tagged with a “highly recommended” card. Not only cattle and poultry, but also grain, fruits and vegetables were entered at numerous fairs from that time on. Mr Menzies always endeavoured to improve the quality of his stock and other produce and the degree of success at these fairs was used as a criterion in making changes in brand or breed. One of these changes was to switch to pedigreed Jersey cows which were imported from Oregon. Through succeeding years this small start was built up into a very fine, prize winning herd which took many prizes including medals, silver cups, prize ribbons and cash. At the Victoria fair one year, in a contest for the most milk and butterfat produced by a cow of any breed over a two day period, the Jersey Lady Buttercup of Pender, won first prize.
Competition was always keen at the large fairs, notably from
Bull and Sons from Brampton, Ontario, who used to import directly from the
island of Jersey where the breed originated. Grimmer Brothers of Pender Island
also established a fine herd and became keen competitors and successful prize
winners. Grimmer Bothers (Percy and Nep) raised Jersey cattle and sheep. In 1911
they showed Jerseys at New Westminster, Vancouver, and Victoria. They made three
records of over 600 lb butter fat. In 1918 when UBC established their herd of
Jerseys, they bought a cow from Grimmer Brothers for $500; this cow later
produced 900 lb butterfat. Milk was sent to Saltspring Creamery until it closed
down from regulatory pressures. Later Don Grimmer took over the farm of his
father and uncle and he changed over to beef cattle. Now his sons are farming
the same valley with Hereford cattle and sheep. Currently there are six cattle
producers on Pender, with approximately 60 head.
Tree fruit production and export became important as well. The Gulf Islands were major fruit producers well before the Okanagan became a major provider. Some farms today have the traditional apple trees, new varieties of apples as well as plum, pear and even fig. Grapes are being grown, with one new vineyard and winery.
Some of the agricultural enterprises of that era have come and gone – prizewinning dairy herds, tree fruits exported at a volume to rival the Okanagan – and we now have mostly declining orchards and a total of two dairy cows. Our agriculture on Pender now resembles the early days – some new orchards with young trees, a few beef or dairy cattle, poultry– and several sheep farms of varying size. The sheep have always maintained a visible presence here – many are on the same farms that have had sheep for over 100 years. Sheep were traditional export items. Sheep had high value in that early period, and they were shipped by boat to Vancouver and Victoria and often slaughtered enroute to sell the meat fresh off the boat.
The Pender Islands currently maintain 12 sheep flocks of approximately 300 breeding ewes, producing 475 lambs and 30 mutton annually. This exceeds the Pender Island consumption of lamb, so we also ship lamb off-island or direct market lamb to tourists. Sheep on Pender Island are sustainably raised primarily on locally produced hay and pasture. The management style is environmentally friendly, producing environmentally friendly product. Producers follow humane management practices. Of the meat animals slaughtered, some are shipped to Metchosin to a government inspected slaughter facility. This is necessary for sale of meat to restaurants, retail outlets or the Farmers’ Market. Some of the farm-gate sold meat is slaughtered by non-inspected facilities or on the home farm.
Agriculture on Pender Island is a sleeping giant, a land reserve with low impact, sustainable farms. The future of agriculture will depend in large part on the impending fuel shortage that will encourage local food production. It will need a system and infrastructure that will ensure a reliable, good quality water supply in the future. It will also depend on landowners that are able and willing to take up the challenge of farming and a community that will encourage and support its development. Agriculture in the future will depend on a community vision and good planning.
“Farming is stated as being an important traditional land use, lifestyle and livelihood. Farming is part of the cultural landscape that is to be preserved and protected.” from Saltspring Island OCP
“Sustainable agriculture is farming that provides a secure living for farm families; maintains the natural environment and resources; supports the rural community; and offers respect and fair treatment to all involved, from farm workers to consumers to the animals raised for food.” from John Van Dongen, BC Minister of Agriculture Food and Fisheries at the “Creating a Sustainable Agricultural Community Conference, 2002.
“In order to last, a sustainable agriculture must be ecologically sound, economically viable and socially responsible” from John Ikerd, Ag. Economist
Many of the concerns expressed by the Focus Group participants revolved around sustainability issues. Some people were afraid that industrial farming methods would be used on Pender, resulting in a contaminated aquifer, excessive irrigation and reduced water supply, inhumane livestock practices and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
There are federal and provincial programs that are in place to address these issues. The federal Environmental Farm Program was put in place to educate farmers in the most environmentally sound farm practices and provide funding to encourage the adoption of these practices. The Farmers’ Institute sponsored a EFP workshop presented by the Island Farmers’ Alliance this year. Most farmers attended and some are already in the process of adopting this program into their own farm management plans. Each participant received a reference manual with the prescribed Best Management Practices for environmental protection, and a workbook to apply these practices to their own farm.
The issue of water availability and water quality is also a major issue. Although farm activities have been often mentioned in the Focus Group sessions as possibly contaminating and depleting the aquifers, the actual farm practices on Pender are very low impact because most producers adopt sustainable farming methods. Livestock are not raised in feedlots here - farmers graze their stock and do not exceed the stocking rate for their species or pasture type. Ponds are present on each farm to provide water for gardening and stock watering. The Federal Government has initiated the National Water Supply Enhancement Program to ensure there is enough clean water for farms and rural communities. The funds available from this program are for digging ponds, providing water to fields and livestock watering areas, etc. The first two tiers of the program are exclusively for farmers, but the third tier is for rural communities to conduct groundwater studies and set up water management plans.
A third Federal Program is just new and is concerned with On Farm Food Safety. This program – although now voluntary – will require all food producers to be part of the program and follow the Best Management Practices for food production. This will include livestock management as well as vegetable and fruit production.
Many in the farming community would like Pender Island to be completely GMO free (on the farm and in the retail outlets) and pesticide free (on the farm and on private and public holdings). We realize this is a policy that the Local Trust committee cannot put into law. Federal and Provincial policies allow farmers to have the right to choose the type of agriculture they wish to adopt. Where we can limit pesticide and other chemical use is in adopting laws that monitor environmental impacts to the water supply and soil. The Local Trust committee could also encourage education and monitoring efforts to maintain clean water and soils.
Sustainable agriculture is to be supported in that water resources should not be used beyond their capacity to be naturally replenished, both in quality and quantitity. (A FRESHWATER STRATEGY FOR BC. BC MIN OF ENV, LAND, PARKS. 1999)
We live here too. It is important to understand that people who farm on Pender are just as concerned about water quality and quantity issues, sustainability, protection of the environment and the provision of safe food for the community.
Pressures on Small Farms
Federal and Provincial policies arising from the Agricultural Policy Framework are eroding small farms by applying policies intended for large-scale commercial farms.
One of the policies that will have a major impact on the community is the new Meat Inspection Regulations. Many farms in the Gulf Islands raise lamb because of the ideal, predator-free conditions and pastures suited for this style of livestock production. Many lambs are processed within the Gulf Island area, which lacks a government inspected slaughter facility. Remote rural areas with low livestock volumes and a history of low risk to the consumer have been exempt from the regulations. However, the government is going to require “one size fits all” regulations which will require either the transport of livestock off island to inspected plants, or the costly upgrading of local facilities to suit CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) standards. A recent Gulf Islands Feasability Study found it to be cost prohibitive to build a new facility – even a mobile facility would require a lot of investment capital and there is too much uncertainty for the local farmers to commit to such a project at this time.
The average farmer is about 65 years old, and often the younger generations are not interested in maintaining the family farm. Long hours and low returns are just two reasons for this.
Farmers make up 2-3% of the population and do not have a strong political voice.
We are also on the cusp of a trend in land use – the purchase of farms as estates for the wealthy. Some may argue that this is a way to preserve farms since it may also allow for leasing by local farmers. Farm advocacy groups are also concerned about foreign ownership of farms in which the owner is a non-resident. This drives the price of farms up, and if the owner does not live here the land may be underutilized as a vacation home, or worse may be exploited in a non-sustainable way.
One farm on North Pender has already been sold to a US buyer, who does not live here. A second farm has had offers from China and the US. A recent Island Tides reported that at an Islands Trust meeting foreign ownership was discussed – Americans were surprised at how easy it was to buy in the Gulf Islands since other provinces restrict non-resident ownership of land. A few issues later the Island Tides published an article on residency issues for Americans, especially with respect to Revenue Canada (“Americans in Paradise”, Island Tides, July14-27, 2005 Vol. 17, No. 13). The impending 2010 Olympics and the new National Park will no doubt increase the exposure of our ”paradise”.
AGRITOURISM should be encouraged as a viable activity. The Gulf Island location and heritage lends itself to promoting our island lifestyle and educating the public with respect to small farm practices and values.
Agritourism Community Events
The Farmers’ Market and Fall Fair are both agritourism activities. Farmers’ Markets are important as community focal points. The energy consumed in transporting food is greatly reduced when we buy locally. Most foods at the farmers’ market are organic. As an added bonus, the weekly market is a place for neighbours to meet.
The Pender Islands’ Fall Fair is the perfect venue to showcase local agriculture. It is the biggest annual event on Pender. It is a perfect gathering place for the community to celebrate its heritage and look toward the future.
Agritourism Farm Visits
For farm gate sales, tours and displays of agricultural activities. Many farm activities interest the non-farming community. To encourage roadside stand visits and on-farm visits, the Local Trust Committee needs to allow for road signs that direct visitors to farms that are not on the main roads.
AGRITOURIST ACCOMODATION should be dealt with on a case by case basis to ensure it is secondary to the farm operation. The intent of the ALC guidelines is to have agritourist accommodation as a seasonal, temporary use. Camping should be an allowed agritourism use and should follow the low impact guidelines of the National Parks. The non-farming focus group participants felt that camping should be restricted, but it is costly to put in flush toilets for only 3 campsites. For advice on the farm operation, the Trust could consult with the Regional Agrologist
Farm Activities: Growing,
Processing and grading of meat, eggs, fibre, fruit are farm activities that should be considered in zoning for agriculture. Saturna allows for processing of Gulf Islands farm produce, not just Saturna’s produce. It may be necessary to allow a single processing facility to be available for several farmers throughout the Gulf Islands..
The Farming community would like to request the local trust committee to not only support local production and processing of farm products, but also to support the marketing of farm products to ensure a viable, sustainable agriculture on Pender.
Roadside farm stands are commonly seen, and again a part of the agritourism aspect as well as a means to sell farm produce. Provincial and regional health boards may require refrigeration and other requirements in the future and the Trust should be aware that this may require farm stores for farm gate sales.
The Farmers’ Market is an important venue for selling farm product locally. Its current location at the Community Hall provides an important setting for community gatherings and discussions. It centralizes and condenses marketing activities, and allows the consumer to meet the farmers who produce the farm products.
COMMERCIAL GREENHOUSES need more review and consultation. Many focus group participants were aware of the issues with the Delta commercial greenhouses. The farming community on Pender do not envision a similar situation here because we do not have the access to markets, transportation or natural gas necessary to have greenhouses of a scale like Delta. It is premature to restrict them at this stage. There are many greenhouse types (heated, non-heated, etc.). Greenhouses can provide for out of season produce and jobs. It was apparent that many non-farming focus group participants that wanted no pesticides or herbicides also wanted greenhouses restricted. Greenhouses use 90% less chemicals and are often completely organic because they are environmentally controlled. They reduce the risk to farms with respect to environmental fluctuations (ie tomato blight).
TO ENCOURAGE LOCAL FARMING: 1. The Local Trust Committee should establish an Agricultural Advisory Committee to advise the Local Trust Committee on issues that could affect local agriculture. This may include development applications to rezone or subdivide agricultural land, include or exclude land from the Agricultural Land Reserve, or applications to allow non-farm uses on farmland. The Agricultural Advisory Committee members may be local farmers with consultation by the Regional Agrologist and/or Agricultural Land Commission. Wherever there may be a conflict of interest, the Local Trust would be advised to consult the Regional Agrologist on decisions. This has been discussed among the local farmers and they are in support of this committee. 2. The Local Trust Committee should establish Development Permit Areas for Agriculture as described by the Agricultural Land Commission. This tool is simple to set up – a boundary around the ALR whereby development must take surrounding farms into account with respect to impact. DPA for Watersheds would also be useful for the entire community.