Sen. Diane Griffin examines a bottle of Sajiva Kombucha during a meeting Wednesday with local farmers at Wise Earth Farm. - Carli Berry/Capital News

Sen. Diane Griffin examines a bottle of Sajiva Kombucha during a meeting Wednesday with local farmers at Wise Earth Farm. - Carli Berry/Capital News

Senators hear about problems young Kelowna farmers face

The senate committee visited Wise Earth Farm Wednesday as part of its study into Canada’s food sector

The rising costs of farmland, and what local farmers are doing to combat it, was discussed in Kelowna by members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.

Committee members visited Wise Earth Farm as part of its study Wednesday into the value-added food sector in Canada.

Tessa Wetherill with Young Agrarians, a farmer-to-farmer resource network, said fewer young adults are getting into farming because of the cost of land.

“So we’re sort of moving away from that model where there’s a family farm and the farm gets passed down through the generations,” she said. “The average price of land here in the Okanagan is above $91,000 per acre, so that’s a significant barrier.”

Farmers are moving toward a different model, where plots of land are leased from owners. The B.C. Land Matching program, which Wetherill is a part of, matches new farmers with owners with under-utilized land in the ALR to bring them together through form lease agreements, she said.

According to Statistics Canada, rented farmland has increased significantly, from 2 per cent in 1986 to 27 per cent in 2011.

READ MORE: Okanagan Food Hub Co-op to open first farmer-owned grocery store

There are also benefits to a localized system, Wetherill said.

“There’s a lot more food security or sovereignty in a system that is localized, you’re not reliant on big fluctuations in market… it’s easier for farmers to get their food sold so they get a better price for it, they don’t have to deal with shipping… and these producers are smaller scale,” she said.

The committee recently launched its study of Canada’s value-added food sector in April. Value-added is when a product, like a strawberry, is repurposed into another product, such as jam, Wetherill said.

The committee toured Wise Earth Farm, which leases land from the owner and grows about an acre of planted vegetables on the property.

READ MORE: Creating a community-based Kelowna farm

Tyler Chartrand owns of Ogopogo Salsa, attended the tour. He leases land from a neighbouring farm to create his salsa, which he sells at the Kelowna Crafter’s and Farmer’s Market.

He said he got lucky with the opportunity to lease land and is able to use a tractor for free.

“Having it for free has been critical because when I first started up, I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said.

But the use of finding a commercial space to make the salsa is ongoing for Chartrand.

To process food, it’s a requirement to be in a commercially approved space and “that space becomes really difficult (to find) and puts a huge expense on those who want to start a business,” he said.

He built a building in his backyard, but he said he needs help for the thousands of pounds of food he needs to process in a short period of time.

Sen. Diane Griffin said the issue of land expense is a Canada-wide one.

“It’s hard for new farmers… and it’s even harder within a family to get intergeneration transfers. Land has just become so expensive, there’s a lot of competition for the same property,” she said.

Farmers are also expressing difficulty in getting labour, so they have begun to bring in temporary farm workers.

“It’s really difficult in rural areas in some parts of Canada to get enough workers,” she said. There’s such competition for prices of products, that it makes it difficult for farmers and processors to pay their workers higher wages, therefore people are moving to where they are higher wages.”

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