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Farmer calls on city to emphasize agriculture

There’s potential for economic prosperity and local food security right at our feet

There’s potential for economic prosperity and local food security right at our feet, and a Salmon Arm man wants the city to recognize this in its strategic plan.

John McLeod, a retired farmer involved with local agricultural initiatives such as the Shuswap Food Action Co-op, as well as the city’s agricultural advisory committee, wants agriculture to be made front and centre in Salmon Arm’s future strategic plan.

He feels the city’s current online survey, at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SalmonArmResidents, doesn’t offer enough opportunity for meaningful input. The survey gives residents an opportunity to indicate where they think the city should prioritize the preservation of rural and agricultural land over the next 10 to 15 years, with responses ranging from “very important” to “not important” to “don’t know.  This is in relation to other concerns such as protecting environmentally sensitive ecosystems and reviewing hazard areas such as flood plains.

For McLeod, this just doesn’t go far enough. He notes more than 70 per cent of Salmon Arm’s land base is in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), and this land is a resource that, when managed in a sustainable manner, will provide employment and economic benefits to the community year after year.

“We have all this dirt that can produce and with that production, we’ve got capability here already built for storing it so that we can have fresh produce, fresh meat, 365 days a year. And we have the capability of value-adding it,” says McLeod.

One way to make agriculture a pillar of the strategic plan, says McLeod, would be to create an agriculture department at city hall. McLeod’s vision for this is not  another level of bureaucracy, but a department run on more of an ad hoc basis.

“The agricultural advisory committee can be part of it, we can use the provincial department of agriculture for expertise and guidance with their information, and we have the Agricultural Land Commission that’s more than willing to provide information,” says McLeod.

“So it can be a thing where somebody can go in from the agricultural advisory committee two days a week or something and answer questions or provide information or take down questions and seek out the answers.”

McLeod says this department would be used to set up and maintain a database of available agricultural land and people in need of land to farm.

Coun. Ken Jamieson, who chairs the city’s agriculture committee, says currently agriculture is something that tends to overlap existing departments at city hall, something that is already dealt with on an ad hoc basis, but not really embedded into everyday workings. And while he hadn’t had time to  form an opinion on McLeod’s recommendations, Jamieson says it would be a mistake to ignore agriculture, “especially since the college initiative has suggested it be a pillar of their plans and the fact that two-thirds of the land within the city is in the ALR.”

Ultimately, for McLeod, the goal is to awaken people to an invaluable, renewable resource that should not be taken for granted.

“We’ve got to educate the community that we do not pave over and build on agricultural land,” says McLeod. “We preserve it, and we keep it for future generations. Once we build on it, we’ve limited where our grandchildren are going to be able to get their food from.”

Anyone wanting more information may contact McLeod at johnwmac@telus.net.