The family that operates one of Surrey, B.C.’s longstanding farms is fighting to save hundreds of acres of land from industrial development at a hearing Monday night.
The Heppell family has been farming the 220-acre parcel of land at 192 Street and 36 Avenue for five decades.
The family has long leased the property from the federal government, which originally bought it for a Second World War radar station. In recent years, Ottawa put the land on a list of properties it plans to sell off, raising fears it could end up being developed.
“That really kicked us into gear,” production manager Tyler Heppell told Global News.
“Why would we develop our best farmland when there is other marginal land out there that could suit putting a building on it?”
The land is used to grow potatoes, squash, carrots, parsnips and beets.
Because of its sandy soil that allows heavy farm equipment to operate there during the wet early season, crops from the land are among the first vegetables to be harvested anywhere in Canada every year.
“There’s a possibility this land can get lost, and it’s zoned at the municipal level as basically industrial land,” said Tristan Bouwman, the farm’s crop manager.
“If the federal government were to sell it off they could cash in and make good money from selling some of our most prime farmland in all of the province.”
On Monday, the farm is making its case to the Agricultural Land Commission that the property should be added to the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), a designation that would bar industrial development.
Supporters have gathered more than 75,000 signatures and were hoping for a large turnout at the Monday hearing.
Read more: ‘Very stressful’: Cold weather delays crops for many B.C. farmers, but no relief in sight
The farm has also won the support of several Surrey city councillors.
“We have received hundreds of emails and letters from residents throughout B.C. and Canada indicating their full support for it,” Coun. Linda Annis told Global News.
“This land is hugely important to our food security, not only in the Greater Vancouver area, but throughout British Columbia and Canada … quite frankly it provides most of our early vegetables we buy at the supermarket in early spring.”
Heppell said getting the land into the ALR would be a good first step in its protection, but long-term he’s hoping a covenant can be applied to the property to bar any future use other than farming.
“Will there even be any land to farm, if we are developing our most productive farmland?” he asked.
“You get a lot of purpose from farming and I’ve fallen in love with it. I’m going to be a farmer for the rest of my life.”
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