Ian Vantreight’s controversial proposal to convert rural and agricultural land into luxury condos and housing highlights the crisis faced in communities across North America: farmers being forced out of business by inflated land values.
The Saanich Peninsula is one of the most farm-able regions in the world, but land there is more valuable for real estate than agriculture. Our bread basket is quickly being paved over for condos and luxury subdivisions. Regardless of how Central Saanich Council votes on Vantreight’s subdivision, the issue of paving arable land will continue to plague our community until we find long-term solutions that protect our farms from real estate speculation.
40 years ago the Saanich Peninsula grew 70% of its own produce. Now we rely heavily on imported and processed products and the Island only has a three day supply of fresh food if cut off from imported produce. In our current climate of environmental and economic instability, one of the smartest things we can do for our children and grandchildren is to reverse this trend. We need to find long-term solutions that protect our farms from real estate speculation in perpetuity.
As the current generation of farmers reaches retirement age their successors are faced with prohibitively high mortgages. Many young farmers are so indebted to banks that they are being forced to sell portions of land for commuter subdivisions. Each time this happens the speculative value of surrounding land increases and the problem becomes worse for every other farmer in the region. This decreases our capacity for food sovereignty, weakens the local economy and damages the environment. The only benefactors are the financial institutions that collect the interest off our mortgages.
Most farms are primarily owned by banks who make billions of dollars loaning money to land owners. When farms are sold for luxury subdivisions banks reap the interest off of even more loans and the profits are pulled straight out of our community. There is very little accommodation for the needs and circumstances of each farmer or for the long term health of our population because these institutions are only responsible to shareholders with no connection to communities’ well being. If ownership changed hands, and the land that sustains all of our lives was managed by the community instead of by strangers whose objectives only include dollar signs and decimal points, we would see a very different pattern emerge.
We already have several successful examples of community-based ownership in the Capital Regional District (CRD). The Madrona Farm campaign raised enough money to buy acres of prime development land just outside the city and protect it with third party covenants that will keep it safe from bulldozers for generations to come. Public land trust initiatives have been successful in other circumstances as well. The CRD parks levy takes $20 per year from everyone’s property taxes to protect natural areas across the district. A next step would be to create a similar initiative devoted to acquiring farm land to be leased out for food production.
There are any number of other creative solutions that could be used to protect farms and farmers. The longer we prolong taking action on this crisis the more land we are going to see buried under concrete and lost to us forever.
It is well within our reach to use the resources and wealth of this community to prioritize the protection of arable land.
Our community needs to start saying no to land developers like Ian Vantreight and start saying yes to a future of healthy food production.