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Richmond City Councillor Stands Up for Farmland

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Issue: 62 Section: Environment Geography: West BC Lower Mainland Topics: farmland, port

September 2, 2009

Richmond City Councillor Stands Up for Farmland

Vancouver port expansion poses bigger threat to food security than climate change: farmland advocate

by Dawn Paley

The Gilmore Farm in Richmond, BC, is a keystone parcel of agricultural property that sold to Port Metro Vancouver. Photo: Dawn Paley

A recent land sale has veteran farmland advocate Harold Steves worried that port expansion may be a bigger threat than climate change to food security in the BC Lower Mainland.

Steves, a Richmond city councillor who helped found BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) as an MLA in the 1970s, said the expansion of Port Metro Vancouver is a threat to 8-9,000 acres of farmland in eastern Richmond.

In May, Port Metro Vancouver—formed by the amalgamation of the Fraser River Port Authority, the North Fraser Port Authority, and the Vancouver Port Authority, in January 2008—purchased the 200-acre Gilmore Farm in Richmond, which is in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), an area of land designated for agricultural use.

"It is the key parcel for control of the entire ALR in Richmond," Steves told Vancouver's Georgia Straight.

Gilmore Farm lies adjacent to other land owned by Port Metro Vancouver. This has led Steves and others to believe it will be used for container storage, which they argue could undermine the viability of surrounding farms.

Port Metro Vancouver spokesperson Anne McMullin said that won't happen—at least for now.

"We do not have any plans at this stage to change that piece of property away from agricultural land," McMullin told the Straight by phone.

McMullin called Gilmore Farm a "strategic asset." She said that Port Metro Vancouver "wants to ensure, certainly in the short term, that land up against port operations is maintained."

Gilmore Farm has been leased back to its previous owners for the next five years. What’s planned for the property once the lease is up hasn’t been made public.

On June 26, the Metro Vancouver board, an inter-municipal body covering Richmond, Vancouver and over a dozen other municipalities, approved a resolution objecting to the port’s purchase of the farm.

Steves vowed to fight any destruction of farmland by Port Metro Vancouver until his "dying breath."

"In 1973, when we brought the ALR in, we were concerned that we were only producing 86 per cent of our vegetables and small fruit," Steves said. "[D]uring WWII and after the war, we were producing 100 per cent, so a drop down from 100 per cent to 86 per cent was significant. Today, we’re producing 43 per cent. And that’s the problem."

Steves also chairs Metro Vancouver’s agriculture committee. The committee received a staff report in April that shows warmer climates may increase the productivity of the region’s farms.

According to the report, which looks at the potential impact of climate change on agriculture in Metro Vancouver, warmer winter temperatures will give pests and diseases a better chance of surviving the cold, and rising sea levels will increase the possibility of flooding.

But the report also predicts that, by the 2050s, the growing season will be extended by two weeks at both its beginning and end, increasing the viability of bell pepper and melon crops, and allowing for double cropping.

That’s just more reason to preserve Richmond’s farmland, according to Steves.

"The end result is that it is warmer, so [unlike] the Interior of BC, which is drier, and the Prairies, which are drier and less productive, we actually can increase crop production," he said.

Reflecting on more than 40 years of campaigning for farmland, Steves sees little that has changed. "The issues are the same, the knowledge of climate change and running out of food is a little better, but we knew it was happening even then, and that’s what’s so frightening, is that we’ve done so little in such a long time."

A version of this article was published at Straight.com, and at the Vancouver Media Co-operative.

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