Finding land can be difficult for new farmers in the Lower Mainland, but a City of Surrey pilot project called FarmableNOW connects farmers to land owners with available fertile Fraser Valley land. It’s an online portal for new and established farmers to find, lease and grow their farm.
On 187th Street in the City of Surrey, Roger Woo is planting seeds on his fifth of an acre. Woo found this available farmland through a matching program called FarmableNow. The pilot project was developed by the City of Surrey and enabled Woo to meet the landowner and negotiate a five-year lease of the previously under-utilized land.
Woo’s business is The Farmhouse Bard, a market garden specializing in ecologically grown vegetables. His strategy is intensive farming. “My focus is Asian greens; bitter melon, there’s water spinach, baby bak choi, choi sum, gai lan,” he said. “And then there’s all of your usual suspects that you expect to see at a farmers market so beets, carrots, lots of tomatoes, head lettuce, spinach and radishes.”
The web portal provides agricultural information about Surrey and the Fraser Valley, and a list of land plots available for farming as well as providing resources and support as people build a business or in the leasing of the land. Darcy Smith is a Land Matcher with Young Agrarians, a partner in the pilot. She feels strengthening the community is key to success. “It’s a farmer to farmer resource network for new and young entrants to agriculture and our mission is to grow the next generation of farmer.”
Carla Stewart, City of Surrey Senior Policy Planner observes that despite having the fastest growing population in the region, a significant amount of Surrey’s land is available for farming. “Approximately a third of Surrey is agricultural land but just because it is there doesn’t necessarily mean it is usable,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons we wanted to get behind FarmableNow and connect with Young Agrarians. So that we will in the future have food security and will have food growing locally.”
Despite rising land costs, Young Agrarians’ Darcy Smith sees signs that things are possibly getting better for young farmers. “This year was the first we’ve seen a net increase in the number of farmers under 35,” she said. “There is a renewed interest in growing food, in farming and in rebuilding local food systems, which I think is a really positive sign that things are improving for young farmers.”
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