Mar­ket gar­dens won’t solve B.C.’s food chal­lenges

Agri­cul­ture ex­pert says pro­tect­ing farm­land is more im­por­tant

Vancouver Sun - - FRONT PAGE - LARRY PYNN

Bri­tish Columbians are fool­ing them­selves if they think feel-good mar­ket gar­dens are the so­lu­tion to making the prov­ince less re­liant on out­side food sources, a for­mer provin­cial agri­cul­ture of­fi­cial said Tues­day.

Ted van der Gu­lik, a for­mer se­nior en­gi­neer in the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture who is pres­i­dent of the Part­ner­ship for Wa­ter Sus­tain­abil­ity in B.C., said that pro­tec­tion of farm­land — in­clud­ing from port-re­lated de­vel­op­ment in south Delta — is far more im­por­tant, along with find­ing ways to bet­ter use wa­ter and to bring more ir­ri­ga­tion to lands not suit­able for grow­ing food.

He said the United King­dom has some 3,000 to 4,000 smallscale mar­ket gar­dens that pro­duce only one per cent of the food con­sumed, which puts into per­spec­tive the com­par­a­tive hand­ful of such oper­a­tions in Metro Van­cou­ver and a move­ment to con­vert park­ing lots to ur­ban farms.

“I sup­port mar­ket gar­dens. They’re good,” he said. “It’s great to grow food in park­ing lots, hav­ing peo­ple grow their own food. Just don’t call them food se­cu­rity.”

I sup­port mar­ket gar­dens. They’re good. … It’s great to grow food in park­ing lots, hav­ing peo­ple grow their own food. Just don’t call them food se­cu­rity. TED VAN DER GU­LIK PRES­I­DENT OF THE PART­NER­SHIP FOR WA­TER SUS­TAIN­ABIL­ITY IN B.C.

“You’re go­ing against food se­cu­rity,” van der Gu­lik added, “when you are putting in (to pro­duc­tion) two one-acre park­ing lots and re­mov­ing 150 hectares of land at the port … get­ting rid of the last large parcels of agri­cul­tural land that we have. The mes­sag­ing is wrong.”

He told a Rich­mond con­fer­ence on wa­ter and cli­mate change that B.C. pro­duces about 48 per cent of its cur­rent food needs. We have about 180,000 hectares of ir­ri­gated farm­land across B.C. — a fig­ure that needs to be in­creased to 250,000 hectares in the com­ing years.

Metro Van­cou­ver has about 13,000 hectares of ir­ri­gated farm­land com­pared with about 15,000 hectares in the Fraser Val­ley — which, when com­bined, is greater than the 20,000 hectares of ir­ri­gated land in the dry Okanagan Val­ley, he said.

About 85 per cent of wa­ter in the Okanagan is used for ir­ri­ga­tion — 65 per cent for agri­cul­ture and 20 per cent for land­scapes.

Blue­ber­ries are the main crop that is ir­ri­gated in Metro Van­cou­ver, com­pared with for­age crops in the Fraser Val­ley.

Van der Gu­lik called for more ef­fi­cient use of wa­ter amid a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion, not­ing that blue­berry farm­ers have switched to drip ir­ri­ga­tion, which has the added ben­e­fit of al­low­ing work­ers to be in a field while it is un­der­go­ing ir­ri­ga­tion.

“Farm­ers will do the right thing if the eco­nomics are there,” he said.

In a later in­ter­view, van der Gu­lik said that the Fraser River has enough wa­ter to han­dle fu­ture ir­ri­ga­tion needs in the Lower Main­land if there is the gov­ern­ment will to build the nec­es­sary in­fra­struc­ture. Delta re­cently spent about $20 mil­lion on ir­ri­ga­tion im­prove­ments for its farm­ers, he said. The mu­nic­i­pal­ity has about 6,300 hectares of farm­land, of which 4,235 hectares re­ceived some form of ir­ri­ga­tion.

“We could ir­ri­gate a lot more land,” he said. “It’s not some­thing that’s not doable. If we had prob­lems with food sup­ply, we’d find the money to do it.”

Cli­mate change is ex­pected to in­crease the wa­ter needs of agri­cul­ture by an av­er­age 10 per cent by 2050, which could be ac­com­mo­dated through more ef­fi­cient use of wa­ter, es­pe­cially for fruit and veg­etable crops, he added.

As B.C. warms with cli­mate change, ar­eas such as the Peace River in the north­east will have to switch to high­er­value crops — rather than ce­real crops — to jus­tify the in­stal­la­tion of ir­ri­ga­tion in­fra­struc­ture, he said.

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