A public hearing on Monday night (Jan. 23) heard from members of the public about the provincial Agricultural Land Commission’s initiative to include 300 acres of land adjacent to Campbell Heights within the Agricultural Land Reserve.
This rare inclusion move is a follow-up to significant public interest in doing so, as the federally-owned property is to be disposed of. Surrey council also supports this move.
The land has been farmed for 50 years by the Heppell family, longtime Surrey farmers, and often produces the first B.C. crops available in spring.
This is because of its excellent drainage, good soil conditions and a location above the wetter farm lands which dominate in the Fraser Valley.
The fate of this land will be a critical determinant as to whether the federal and provincial governments really want to boost food security and look out for future generations. The federal government traditionally offers land it no longer needs to First Nations as part of reconciliation plans. The province is also involved in reconciliation, but the ALR was an initiative of the Dave Barrett NDP government in the early 1970s and remains one of its most enduring and popular legacies.
Understandably, some First Nations leaders will look at this land as an economic opportunity. Industrial land is as scarce as good farmland in B.C., and the current value of the land if it was to be turned into an industrial park is about $5 million per acre – over $1 billion.
Some history of land use in this area is very relevant. The same Barrett government wanted to build an oil refinery in the area near the current Campbell Heights business park, and purchased quite a bit of land there. Surrey had long earmarked Campbell Heights for industrial use. It, too, owned a great deal of land there.
Possibly because of the oil refinery plans, land that was being farmed at the time the ALR was instituted was not included.
The city eventually decided to build a lengthy sewer line along 192 Street and Campbell Heights began to take shape in the early 2000s.
Farming has never been a high priority for Surrey council.
The Heppells used to lease 100 acres of the former forest service nursery west of 192 Street for farm use. Surrey cancelled the lease – the land is now used for industrial purposes.
Keeping farmland in production is more challenging than ever when urban uses surround farms, and land prices skyrocket.
However, are jobs and warehouse space at Walmart and Amazon more important than a steady supply of local produce? Which counts for more in the long run?
Those interested in the fate of this land should continue to put pressure on all levels of government to ensure that it somehow remains in production.
Hard choices will have to be made – something that governments traditionally shy away from.
Speaking of farming and Surrey council, longtime former councillor Dalton Jones died earlier this month at the age of 98. A lifetime Surrey resident, he was the last farmer elected to council until the recent election of Mike Bose.
He was a passionate defender of the Hazelmere Valley, and retained a keen interest in local politics long after he left council. He developed the politics bug while he was a high school student at Semiahmoo Secondary in the early 1940s, just after it opened.
I had many good discussions with him over the years and was always struck by his innate common sense and understanding of the big picture.
Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Black Press Media.