Agricultural land inventory may help local food policy

The District of Squamish hopes data from provincial agrologists can help the town reach its food goals

In a first for the Squamish area, the province is surveying the lands around town used for agricultural purposes, something the municipality hopes will help it preserve farmland and support local food initiatives.

Earlier this month, agrologists from the province began collecting data from Squamish and the surrounding region of Electoral Area D in the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.

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“At the local level, it’s an opportunity for us to look at where those lands are [and] how much lands we do have that are being actively farmed,” said District planner Sarah McJannet. 

Agrologists have been touring the area, taking aerial shots in order to identify which areas are used for farming and the types of crops being harvested. They’ve been following up on the ground to survey the lands. 

The creation of an agricultural land- use inventory and an agricultural water demand model is expected at the end of this project.

The District anticipates that this information could help spawn an agricultural area plan that will help the municipality preserve farmland and meet some of its local food goals.

McJannet said some past policies enacted by the municipality could provide an example of how regulations could be changed to strengthen the local food economy.

For instance, the District oversaw the creation of greenhouse-friendly zoning regulations that exempted accessory greenhouse buildings from the maximum number of buildings in an area, among other things.

The District also redefined the term “urban agriculture” in its zoning amendments to allow growers to sell their produce at their farms, and the keeping of hens and bees.

From the municipal perspective, McJannet said the project’s ultimate goal isn’t to add land to the province’s Agricultural Land Reserve, but rather to gather information that will help refine the District’s local farming policies and possibly pave the way for new ones down the road.

It’s a goal that’s aligned with the municipality’s local food goals, she said.

One example of those policies includes a passage in the draft version of the latest Official Community Plan.

The District hopes to “support initiatives that increase local food production and agricultural activities,” reads the plan.

The inventory will include lands that are within the province’s Agricultural Land Reserve, also known as the ALR. 

It will also survey non-ALR lands that are being used for farming, such as those with a rural-residential designation, McJannet said.

ALR areas on Squamish Nation reserve lands will be left out, at the request of the Nation, she said.

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