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Surrey, B.C. votes to support inclusion of farmland to ALR, First Nations lay land claim

Click to play video: 'Future of Surrey farm lands remains in limbo, despite council vote'
Future of Surrey farm lands remains in limbo, despite council vote
A plan to have almost 90 hectares of produtive Surrey land added to the Agricultural Land Reserve has hit a snag, despite a vote by city council this week backing the idea. As Jennifer Palma reports, local First Nations say no one asked them. – Feb 15, 2023

Surrey, B.C., city council voted unanimously on Monday to support the addition of the 89 hectares of active farmland to the Agricultural Land Reserve.

The land in question is 123 hectares between 36 and 44 avenues on the Surrey-Langley border.

As it stands, 89 hectares of that land is used to grow more than 50 million servings of vegetables for consumption every year, according to the City of Surrey. The other part of the land is forested area.

If the land is added to the Agricultural Land Reserve it would bar industrial development to the area.

“It is crucial that we protect this invaluable, high-yield farmland to help ensure future food security in the region and across B.C.,” said Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke.

“That is why council voted in favour of protecting this irreplaceable farmland that yields millions servings of vegetables every year.”

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The land has been farmed by the Heppell family, who has been farming in the region for 103 years, the family said.

“My grandpa’s grandpa was loading potatoes here. We’ve farmed the (land in question) for more than 50 years, “ said Tyler Heppell, Heppell’s Potato’s production manager.

“Its highest value is providing is in agriculture and providing food security to Western Canada.”

Potatoes, squash, carrots, parsnips and cabbage are grown on the land, with an emphasis on potatoes.

The land is currently being considered by the federal government for disposition, which may leave the lands vulnerable to future changes in land use, which could see the area developed.

That’s something the farm and City of Surrey said would harm food security and production in the area.

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“This land is at the core of early food supply in British Columbia,” said Tristin Bouwman, the farm’s crop manager.

“This is the first land to produce every year. We typically harvest our potatoes at the end of May. The nugget potatoes you see at the grocery store this past year, about 70 per cent of them (between May and August) came from this parcel of land because it was too wet everywhere else.”

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Bouwman said the draining at the land is the reason why its so special as it stays much drier than anything else in the area. The family has long leased the property from the federal government, which originally bought it for a Second World War radar station. Supporters of the farm gathered more than 75,000 signatures by January in a petition.

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Legal representation for three B.C. First Nations communities — Katzie, Kwantlen, and Semiahmoo First Nations — have filed a land claim letter for the area as well in early January.

The group said the land is “an integral component of (its) territories.”

The letter, which has been sent to the province and the Agricultural Land Commission, said the land should be given over to the Indigenous communities within legal obligations in respect to Aboriginal rights.

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“KKS collectively asserts (and indeed holds) Aboriginal rights, including title, over the land based on their exclusive and sufficient occupation and control of this area at the time of the Crown’s assertion of sovereignty,” the letter reads.

“KKS ancestors have occupied, governed, stewarded, and used the land, waters and resources of their territories, which include the land, since time immemorial.”

Katzie First Nation issued a statement to Global News on Wednesday, regarding the latest with the unfolding situation.

Officials are in the nation’s capital negotiating with the federal government in respect to the parcel of land.

“Katzie noted that the three Nations are in Ottawa right now having conversations with federal MP’s and ministers in an attempt to identify a solution in respect of this land that respects the interests of the various stakeholders involved whilst recognizing the vital importance of this land to the three Nations and the Federal government’s commitment to the implementation of Indigenous rights and UNDRIP,” Katzie representatives said.

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On Wednesday, B.C. Minister of Agriculture and Food Pam Alexis said the province is working on a response to the letter.

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“The relationship with First Nation communities is important to this government and to me personally. I will be working with Minister Murray Rankin and our government to respond to the letter from the KKS, and we will have more to say after we work with our partners,” she told Global News.

Global News also has reached out to the local MP, John Aldag, for comment.

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