Farmer Metchosin – Saanich News


Robin Tunnicliffe, a farmer from Metchosin, had worked as a farmer for 15 years in Saanich while looking for land to buy. But with prices constantly rising, she couldn’t afford to.

“I never really thought it would be possible for me to put down roots,” she said.

She was lucky. Bob Mitchell, who ran Sea Bluff Farm in Metchosin, was looking for a successor. He contacted Tunnicliffe after reading his book on sustainable farming. She first came to help Mitchell a decade ago and has since taken over operations.

It is a rare event.

Tunnicliffe, 48, said most farmers his age cannot afford high land prices and that if farmers who want to retire don’t have children who want to take over or another arrangement, there is a real risk that the land will not be cultivated.

From 2011 to 2016, the total number of producers in British Columbia rose from about 29,000 to 26,000 and the average age of the main operators rose to 56, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries.

The effects of this trend are already beginning to materialize, Tunnicliffe said.

“It’s a huge risk to food security, even worse than climate change. And it’s already starting to happen.

The upfront cost of securing land and equipment means many young farmers cannot break into the industry, she said.

Mitchell recognized the growing problem and so created a loan program, where for the past five years people trained at Sea Bluff Farm could get a $10,000 interest-free loan to help purchase equipment and ground.

Katie Underwood had worked as a farmhand on several different farms and was looking to start her own project, without much luck.

“It was really tough mentally for me, because I felt like I had cultivated a relationship by being (on the island) for 10 years – but then thinking that I could either stay in the community or I ‘love, or do the calling I love.. It really seemed impossible to do both,’ said Underwood, who took advantage of a Mitchell loan and now runs Peas N’ Carrots Farm in Saanich.

The money came around the time she had been able to find a plot of land to rent with the help of Young Agrarians – a nonprofit that helps run a land-matching program in the province, putting connecting people with property to young farmers who could lease the land.

“Even if it’s a small organic farm, it requires a lot of upfront investment. A lot of the initial upfront cost to me you don’t see because it’s just driven into the ground,” Underwood said.

As a result, with land, a lease and a guaranteed loan, she was able to succeed in her first year of operation, because she knew she had the capital to make certain investments, such as the installation of a real washing station. for his crops. The station was expensive, and with a five-year lease on the land, they might have postponed it without having the loan available. With that in place, Underwood is hoping for a successful growing season.

The province has its own matching program, which has helped increase the number of BC growers under 35 from 205 to 1,825, according to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, who added: “This will help us ensure that our agricultural land is cultivated. and secure industry and land for future generations.

But although Underwood is well settled now, she is not guaranteed to renew her lease. She hopes to be able to stay or, failing that, to find another site. In recent years, she has known five farmers who have lost their leasehold land and therefore their farm.

“It’s a conflict all the time. I think in three years when I finish my tenure here, ‘What am I going to do and what skills do I need to develop outside of farming to enable me to move on if the agriculture just can’t exist for me?’ So it’s really scary.

“All I want to do is grow food.”

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