AGRICULTURE: Surrey launches ‘land-linking’ website focusing on farming
A website that’s been almost two years in the making aims to change Surrey’s agricultural future for the better.
The new “land-linking” website, created by the City of Surrey and a Young Agrarians group, aims to connect landowners with farmers.
Think Craigslist, for farming.
But fourth generation Surrey farmer Mike Bose says the website (FarmableNOW.ca) is a lot more than that.
In addition to helping connect farmers with people who are leasing agricultural land, it also provides resources, like how to create a business plan, and connects newbies to companies that deal in things like equipment, fertilizer and seed.
“It’s a way to link people not just to land, but to link people to all of the pieces of the industry they will need,” explained Bose (pictured), who serves as vice-chair of the city’s Agriculture and Food Safety Advisory Committee.
Plus, he added, “the cost of buying land in the Lower Mainland is high. Resources like this one are going to help more farmers access land.”
That’s important, said Bose, because Surrey has a lot of land that’s owned by non-farmers and is not being used for agricultural purposes.
“When I was a teenager, most of what is sitting idle was being used, so it’s about getting production back into the city,” said Bose. “It’s some of the best producing land in the world.”
The City of Surrey reports that it has more than 6,000 acres of ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve) land not being farmed with potential to be farmed.
A 2012 Metro Vancouver survey of landowners revealed the top three barriers for farmland not being utilized were overall lack of interest, perceived unsuitability of the land, or financial and operational challenges.
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Bose said there is an appetite to have land farmed, but noted the culture has changed.
“Not all farmers’ children want to farm,” he said. “Often, those who are most interested in your land and willing to pay immediately aren’t farmers.”
Bose, who manages a turkey farm and runs the Cloverdale Corn Maze with his family, praised the City of Surrey for being a “leader in the industry.”
“We’ve had such support of council for the lat 25 years. They’ve made some tough decisions. They continue to be supportive.
“We’re hoping this website becomes a leader in the Fraser Valley,” he added. “It gives us the opportunity to grow the industry. The global food situation is such that we will need to be producing more food in the Fraser Valley. And there’s a really big demand for it.”
And the fact is, internet is the way business is going, he said.
“The internet is responsible for at least 70 per cent of our (corn maze) business, and going forward it will be an even more important tool.”
See related: AGRICULTURE WEEK: From Surrey farms to Surrey tables
Surrey Councillor Mike Starchuk is another advocate of the new so-called “land linking” website.
“I think the average age of our farmers in Surrey is 57. I like to think in relative terms it’s not that old,” he said with a chuckle, “but some of these farmers are in their 70s and they may not be able to physically farm that much property any longer.”
The city hopes to encourage those folks to lease their property - or just part of it - creating revenue for them, and creating revenue for the farmer coming in.
“With the world of education and agriculture, it’s creating a different generation of people out there,” said Starchuk. “KPU for instance, they actually have that as part of their course curriculum. So people that have that kind of interest, because food sustainability is a hot topic…. So I think there’s a higher emphasis now with food production.”
Starchuk said it’s important Surrey embrace and nourish its farming roots as the city continues to grow.
“Twenty-five to 30 years ago, Surrey was referred to as the salad bowl, because of all the things we produced. Maybe this website can take some of this inactive land and turn it back into the salad bowl as it was,” he added.
“The whole premise behind farm to table is supporting local…. People are starting to see more visitors going to farmers’ markets and people are wanting to support something that’s local and fresh. The big chains might be able to sell it cheaper, but we don’t know where it’s coming from, or the quality.”
Andreas Boehm, a business development liasion for the City of Surrey, said the city teamed up with a group called Young Agrarians to develop the website, and called it a “one stop shop” for people who have underutilize farmland, or those looking to take the plunge into the industry.
“We were in beta testing mode since September,” said Boehm. “I would say we probably got everything up and running by December and we’re going to be promoting this very heavily. We’ve got a big workshop coming up with farmers, landowners, people interested in farmers.
“We will have experts in the field, representatives from BC Assessment and lawyers in attendance to explain how to make these agreements and to educate people in general about why people should be looking at this," Boehm added.
A workshop is set for Sunday, (Feb. 19) from 2 to 6 p.m. at Clayton Hall (18513 70th Ave.) for anyone who wants to learn more. To register visit youngagrarians.org/surrey-land-link-2017.