In an effort to buck the province-wide trend of diminishing agriculture and farming, the Ministry of Agriculture has partnered with over 41 communities across B.C. to develop agricultural area plans, and the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) is close to having one to call its own.
At the Windermere Lions’ Hall on Tuesday, November 12, RDEK agricultural consultant David Struthers held the fifth in a series of seven public consultations to gather information and feedback on the planning process to date. Implementation of the RDEK Agricultural Plan is set for March 2013.
“What does agriculture mean to you? What actions can be taken to enhance, promote and protect agriculture in the region?” Struthers asked the 30 or so people in attendance. “We’re bounded by the geography we have to work with; relative to other areas in the province, we don’t have large urban centres right on our doorstep.”
An action-oriented document that makes recommendations to all levels of government, an agricultural area plan focuses on a community’s farm areas and identifies solutions to pressing issues as well as opportunities for strengthening the community’s long-term sustainability.
An agricultural land use inventory for the East Kootenay was completed back in 2011, followed by a background report. Public consultation is the next step in the process before development of the plan is finalized and implementation begins.
During the meeting, Struthers provided a snapshot look at the background report, revealing that development, inflated land prices, and heavy regulations have all put pressure on the local agriculture industry. Only about 10 per cent of the total land base in the East Kootenay is agricultural with the number of farms having dropped from 474 to 396 since 1996. While an increase in the number of nurseries and greenhouses has been noted, a decline in cattle livestock isn’t surprising considering the challenges the livestock industry has been facing, Struthers said.
“Where have we been, where are we now, what are favourable conditions for agriculture in the future?” he asked the group. “What specific actions are needed to create this vision?”
Strengthening the connection between those producing the food and those consuming it with public education emerged as a common theme.
Other suggested ideas included branding, agritourism and bolstering agricultural clubs outside the school system.
Partnering with the local Chambers of Commerce to encourage local business people to see possibilities within the agricultural sector also came up, as did improving the local food processing capacity, the challenges of meeting consumer demands, and having the Columbia Valley declared organic and GMO-free.
“RDEK recognizes that agriculture is a sleeping giant,” said Area G director Gerry Wilkie.
To stay informed about the plan’s progress and to participate, visit the dedicated page for the Agricultural Plan at www.rdek.bc.ca.