Housing at Woodwynn Farm a net benefit
B.C. Agricultural Land Commission erred when it rejected non-farm use application
The recent decision by the B.C. Agricultural Land Commission to refuse the application for a non-farm use on the Woodwynn Farm property in Central Saanich should be deeply disappointing to anyone concerned about local agriculture and the social fabric of Greater Victoria.
The property, run by the Creating Homefulness Society, offers a therapeutic program of training and rehabilitation for individuals struggling with addictions, homelessness and/or mental-health challenges.
The non-farm use application was to provide on-site housing for program participants by excluding 0.8 hectares (approximately one per cent) of the land base from direct agricultural use. In making its decision, the ALC concluded: “While the executive committee recognizes the social benefits of the proposal, it does not outweigh the priority given to agriculture.”
The basis for the decision also referenced the commission mandate regarding its role in (a) preservation of agricultural land, and (b) encouraging farming on agricultural land. In refusing the application, I believe the commission has made a fundamental misinterpretation of its mandate.
While the social benefit is the driving force behind the farm, the commission was asked to rule specifically on a non-farm use that is a central component of a business model for operation of a labour-intensive, integrated, mixed-farming operation.
The consequence of the exclusion of 0.8 ha of the farmland base would be to provide direct and effective support to the participant workers, to enhance the efficiency of the work force in the agricultural operation, and to significantly reduce overhead costs for off-site housing and transportation. To suggest that this “loss” of agricultural land is a significant concern also demonstrates an institutional blindness to the rampant speculation in agricultural land that is increasing costs, alienating productive land and decreasing agricultural output throughout the province — particularly in the southwest region.
Prior to the current ownership, this farm had not been managed to its agricultural potential. The increased productivity of the land as a consequence of housing the on-site labour force is likely to be orders of magnitude greater than the lost productivity from 0.8 ha of hay land.
The executive committee of the commission appears to have been unable or unwilling to evaluate an atypical agricultural business model for high-value mixed-farm production that is predicated on a dedicated on-site labour force.
Productivity enhancements to date have demonstrated the potential for the farm to become an important contributor to the district agricultural community — a social benefit directly linked to its agricultural purpose and part of a program that should be facilitated and encouraged by any citizen interested in the survival of local agriculture and healthy communities.