This is a big idea, which could significantly help to create affordable housing and increase local food production. Here is an overview of this idea.
Background and purpose
The Agricultural Land Reserve in BC has been in place for 40 years and has the mandate to preserve agricultural land, encourage farming and farm businesses, and to encourage government agencies (including First Nations) to accommodate land uses that are compatible with agriculture. Despite its existence, regions exist in the ALR where significant portions of the land are idle or not being farmed.
This problem is only likely to get worse as the average BC farmer is 55 years old and they are not being replaced by the next generation.
Many young people would like to farm in the ALR but they also want to live on the land that they farm.
This project idea would enable young people to both live and farm on ALR land, by allowing a small portion of ALR land to be sold for the development of small clusters of homes that are only available to owners that derive a significant portion of their income from farming the adjacent land. This program would significantly increase the volume of food produced per hectare of land while continuing to protect the land from speculation and non-agricultural land development.
How it could work
Any landowner with a sufficiently large plot of ALR land (e.g. 30 or more hectares) would be permitted to sell one hectare of that land for redevelopment into a small farm village with a limited number of homes (e.g.10), provided that residents spent at least half of their collective employment hours on agricultural-related activities. The ALR landowner would also be permitted to sell or lease additional amounts of the land to the farm village homeowners for permitted agricultural uses.
How this project conforms to the rules of the Agricultural Land Commission.
Act Section 18 (1)(a) of the ALC Act stipulates that ALR land “may not be permitted to be used, or building erected, for any purpose other than farming except for residences necessary to farm use or as permitted by regulation.” It also states that “the Act does not set a limit on the number of additional dwellings for farm help per legal parcel; however, all such homes must be necessary for farm use….” It goes on to say that “the legislative effect is to allow municipalities and regional districts to issue permits for additional residences necessary for farm use, without application to the Commission.”
Ensuring that the farm village homes are used by farmers.
To conform to the ALC act, the occupants of the homes in the proposed farm village must be engaged primarily in agriculture-related activities. Therefore it will be important to prevent someone from buying a house in the farm village and then not engaging in farming activities. This could be accomplished in a number of ways. One way might be to include a requirement in the zoning bylaw for at least one member of each home to maintain a farm village occupation permit, which must be renewed annually. Renewal of the permit would be granted only if the homeowner demonstrates that at least 500 hours of their time was spent on farm-related activities. This would be enforced by a random audit.
Development of the farm village homes
Following approval of farm village developments, ALR landowners would offer their land for sale for development of 10 homes. Ideally, groups of future farmers would organize to buy the land and hire a real estate development company to help them build it, as co-housing groups do. However, it may also happen that a developer buys the land and builds the homes and then transfers ownership to a strata corporation.
The price of the land would be based on market conditions but would reflect that fact that each homeowner will be required to become a farmer.
To improve the affordability of the property, the zoning bylaw could allow for green infrastructure elements such as composting toilets, grey water treatment, a single unpaved access road, and no streetlights. Housing affordability could further be increased if residents built their own homes using eco-friendly materials and volunteer work parties. Ideally, the total purchase price of the farm village properties would be less than half of the cost of comparable market housing nearby.
To make this concept of farm villages a reality, the following steps would likely need to be completed:
• Obtain approval in principle for the concept from the ALR commissioners;
• Secure funding to refine the proposal, including stakeholder engagement;
• Obtain legal advice to confirm that the concepts fit with the ALR act, or draft an amendment;
• Identify a municipality or regional district that is willing to experiment with a farm village bylaw
• Prepare a draft zoning bylaw and refine it through stakeholder engagement;
• Prepare a protocol for Farm Village development, possibly borrowing from the cohousing model;
• Present the bylaw to a municipality/regional district for modification, public hearing and adoption;
• Organize a media launch to inform ALR landowners and future farmers about the opportunity.
Funds raised through a crowdfunding campaign could be used to refine the proposal and conduct stakeholder engagement (bullet #2 above).