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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

‘Best farmland in Canada’ losing out to large estates

with 5 comments

The Province

“The Fraser Valley is sitting on probably the best agricultural land in Canada, and perhaps even in North America,” says David Hull, Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce’s executive director.

“Now we’re worried that some of these lands are being taken out of food production.”

One of the primary threats to the Valley’s productive agricultural land base comes inadvertently from the so-called “gentlemen farmers,” Hull explains.

Many smaller farms in the region — especially in the Abbotsford area — are bought by well-heeled individuals who subsequently build very large homes, swimming pools, tennis courts, and so on, on the properties, thus converting them into country estates.

This practice is not confined to Abbotsford. It is very evident in Richmond. On No 3 Road south of the Steveston Highway there are now several of these. One built a few years ago now hosts an annual horse show. Not that there is anything wrong with that but it is no longer land in use for food production. Fields in the same general area produce a variety of crops including soft fruit and green vegetables. Indeed one of the great benefits of living in Richmond is that the variety of dark leafy greens (which as you know are very important to human health and must be consumed soon after harvesting) available is much greater than the standard supermarket fare. Usually the choice is spinach, broccoli or kale – but we see at least half a dozen types of choy alone.

Another was under construction when I was employed by StatsCan on the 2006 Census preparation. It looked to me like a very large development, so I was obliged to go onto the building site, to determine if it would be occupied on census day and how many forms would be needed. Just one, but no it would not be occupied as the construction schedule was for nearly a year. If it had been ready by census day I would have to have probed about the servant’s quarters, but that was not necessary. I was tempted recently to take its picture as I cycled past but I was deterred by the presence of someone trying to look like a gardener.

Like the house next door it is now concealed from casual passers by. And not only are there automatic gates but an array of cctv cameras.

Another one on No 4 Road has a drive which curves at 90°, so the approach to the house is behind not one but two rows of cedar trees, which will eventually fill in to make impenetrable 10′ hedges, but between them runs a substantial fence. There is less security at federal prisons.

As the Province article notes, no one can force you to farm your land. Indeed even though permissions to build churches, temples, gudwaras, mosques and schools along the east side of No 5 road was conditional upon the land at the back, along the freeway, being used to grow food, there is very little actual cultivation going on. I can even recall applicants explaining to Richmond Council that Buddhist monks, being vegetarian, would be growing much of their own food for the monastery associated with the temple. From what I can see, most of the land is actually used as a parking lot.

This is the difference between the intention and the letter of the law. “Agricultural Land Reserve” does not actually mean retention of land for agriculture and the production of food . As we have also seen in Delta, it also does not mean preservation of soils and open land. And anyway short term political considerations always trump long term sustainability – and that is not confined to the ALR either.

It might be easier to take if the provincial government did not keeping banging on about how green it is.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 20, 2008 at 3:57 pm

Posted in land use

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5 Responses

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  1. perhaps these big estate homes are doing indoor farming? its far more lucrative! signed………………………..tommy chong

    grant g

    April 20, 2008 at 5:10 pm

  2. What is there, like 9 cars in that first picture? Must be nice.


    April 20, 2008 at 5:25 pm

  3. I must admit that I would have chosen a better location myself. It backs on to the sewage works – and the prevailing wind is, of course, from the west. Thopugh it may be that you lose some sensitivity to smells when you live next to the stables. I imagine that a horse farm needs quite a few people to work it. And the nearest bus stop is over a mile away.

    Stephen Rees

    April 20, 2008 at 5:50 pm

  4. Somehow I doubt they’re using transit! 🙂


    April 20, 2008 at 5:58 pm

  5. The one at No. 3 Rd & Finn looks like the same layout as the house in the board game Clue. Complete with an inner courtyard and a gazebo at the back!

    Paul Holden

    April 20, 2008 at 6:40 pm

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