As the owner of a farm that has been in the hands of the same family for 140 years, Glenn Smith finds himself these days reflecting not only on the past, but also worrying about the future.
Will the farm he and his wife, Marianne, run in Langley still be in production in 20 years? In 100?
The province has been debating the future of farming over the past two weeks after news reports that the provincial government's core review is looking at major changes to the Agricultural Land Commission, which manages B.C.'s 4.7-million-hectare Agricultural Land Reserve.
Mr. Smith, whose family farm covers a mere 20 hectares of that, says the ALR must be protected if small farms like his are to survive.
"I think it is important … that at least we can keep the green zone. Keep it there for future generations as long as possible," he said on Monday.
But protecting the land alone is not enough, he added, because there has to be a business case for keeping a farm going.
"As far as what we're doing, we are trying to appeal to a local market, and the ALR is only going to work if the farming is economically sustainable," said Mr. Smith, whose family has been working the same piece of land in the Fraser Valley since 1873. The movement that put an increased value on local food has given his farm a boost in recent years. And it came just in time. The dairy operation the Smiths had been running needed costly equipment upgrades and the family could not justify the expenditures. They switched from cows to goats and began producing handcrafted cheeses.
"One of the ways we're trying to adapt is by taking advantage of the local population increase that we see in the surrounding area," Mr. Smith said. "There's a lot of development on non-agricultural land coming to within a mile of us now, like row houses."
To many, encroaching urbanization is a threat because it inflates land prices and leads to increasing pressure from developers.
Reg Ens, executive director of the B.C. Agriculture Council, said his organization supports the government's core review, but is worried the voices of the agricultural sector are not being heard.
"Farmers and ranchers understand there are competing land uses that must be considered," he said in a statement. "However ... we expect the core review process to engage with farmers before final decisions are made."
Mr. Ens, whose organization represents more than 14,000 farmers and ranchers in B.C., said of particular concern is a proposal to shift ALC authority to the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission.
"This proposal constitutes an outward conflict of interest and in no way does it serve the public good in protecting farm land," he said.
But to many people, the ALR badly needs to be modernized.
Paul Gevatkoff, chair of Citizens for Agricultural Reform, said when the ALR was established, the government was trying to protect farm land in the south from urban sprawl.
But no such threat materialized in northeast B.C., he said.
"Our population up here, in the whole northeast sector, is only 70,000 people," he said from his home in Dawson Creek. "So we don't have the pressures on agricultural land up here. We've got three million acres of land in the reserve, and at least 40 per cent is basically sitting idle. There's a lot of land here that's been cultivated at some point that's gone back to brush."
Mr. Gevatkoff said farmers in his area want to run non-agricultural businesses on the side, for example, using water trucks to supply the booming oil and gas business. But under current rules, they cannot use farmland for such an operation. "If people understood the negative impacts [of the ALR] I think they'd agree we need to be treated differently up here," he said.