Many young people want to farm but can’t afford the real estate. Established farmers, meanwhile, are heading for retirement. The B.C. government has worked to address this gap. Through the B.C. Land Matching Program (BCLMP), more farmers can gain access to affordable, available farmland. In a press release, the government said at least seventy farmers throughout the province have found new opportunities in farming communities through the BCLMP.

In the Columbia Valley, there’s been little interest or uptake for a number of reasons.

The way it works: BCLMP provides personalized land matching and business support services to farmers looking for land to start or expand their farm, and landholders interested in finding someone to farm their land. Ninety percent of the matches arranged through the program are in regions with high real estate prices, including Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and the Okanagan.

“It’s an excellent program but our valley poses inherent challenges,” said Hedi Trescher, volunteer project coordinator of the Windermere and District Farmers’ Institute. “It’s hard for us to compete with the West Kootenay of the Okanagan where there is a more favourable growing climate for produce.”

That’s not to say that land isn’t available in the Columbia Valley. More to the point, multiple factors need to align in order for grassroots farming to sprout here. “Things take time. The BCLMP is a good program but it doesn’t do enough to flip the switch on catalyzing a local farming operation. When I was in my late twenties, I started a lettuce crop. Lettuce is a great crop for the valley’s climate. The problem I ran into was the deer started eating the lettuce. When you plant a commercially scaled crop, elk fencing is required,” said Trescher. Elk fencing is expensive.

Another missing piece is storage. “Storage is a critical piece to enabling more farming,” said Trescher. “Put another way, we need more value-add investment.” A local success story of value-add infrastructure is the abattoir. Since it opened, there are two new sheep farms. “And it’s twice as busy this year compared to last,” said Trescher.

Considerable constraints to the valley’s diversity of agriculture production results in a skewed output. Garlic, for example. “Garlic is having a moment right now,” said Trescher. “Everyone is planting garlic. It works here. But we don’t need all the garlic that is being grown.”

Other parts of the province have fared better with the BCLMP. In the West Kootenay, Krista Robson started Zero Fox Farms, perennial nursery and herb farm, after being matched to a landowner in Harrop. The landowners were looking for a young farmer or farming family to share their land with and to promote young families moving into their community.

“Our land matcher really listened to what our land needs were and read our personalities and lifestyles as well,” said Robson in an interview with the Nelson Star. “Because of the match, we not only have two acres of incredible land to farm but also a very lovely new and supportive community.”

Across the province, the new businesses are farming a range of agricultural products, including mixed vegetables, sheep, goat, cattle, grain, hay, flowers, berries, eggs, tree fruits, buffalo dairy, honey, medicinal herbs and mushrooms.

BCLMP is part of Grow BC, a commitment of the Ministry of Agriculture supporting young farmers and food producers seeking a career in agriculture. The program is also part of the province’s larger New Entrant Strategy, a framework for increasing the number of new and young farmers working in B.C.’s agriculture sector.

Unsplash photo by Gaelle Marcel