Public land is land that is owned and the use of which is administered by the Federal, Provincial or Municipal government.
In British Columbia, 94% of the total land base is provincially held crown land (BC MFLNRO, 2014). However, many of the First Nations in British Columbia claim Aboriginal Title and Rights to large areas of this land and there are ongoing treaty settlements. Until treaties are settled, the Provincial government continues to manage these publicly held lands with a legal obligation to consult with those First Nations with land claims (West Coast Environmental Law, 2014).
Agricultural uses including intensive crop production, extensive crop production and grazing are accepted use on Crown Land. For intensive and extensive production crown land can be accessed through fee simple acquisition or a 30 year lease and fro grazing crown land can be accessed through a 20 year grazing license. However the government is not currently accepting applications for new grazing licenses, only renewals of existing licenses are being accepted. For details on the policy around crown land use and access for agriculture please visit the Tenure Branch of the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
1) Crown Land for Agriculture Initiative, North Kootenay Lake Community Services Society
The Kaslo Food Security Project, a sub-project of the North Kootenay Lake Community Services Society, undertook an initiative to identify and map unused crown land with potential for agricultural uses. The goal of the project was to deterine the potential of farming on crown land and to facilitate farmers accessing this land. It was found that there were significant barriers to using the identified crown land for agricultural purposes and there was insufficient interest from farmers to access this land. As a result the project was put on hold after the initial mapping and consultation phase.
To view a PDF document prepared by NKLCSS explaining the process of applying for use of crown land for intensive or extensive agriculture please click here: NKLCSS Crown Land for Ag Info
Click here to visit NKLCSS’s project page which includes maps of crown land identified as having agricultural potential in the North Kootenays.
2) Agricultural Land Reserve – BC Land Trust Proposal
The ALR is a provincial zoning policy that was put in place in to protect agricultural. As it is a zoning mechanism the provincial government does not own ALR land rather it functions by placing restrictions on how the land is used by private owners. The ALR has been an effective strategy to protect agricultural land in the province however the policy presents various challenges one of which being that there is a lack of mechanism to ensure that ALR is accessible to farmers and is actually actively being used for agricultural production.
A report written for the Ministry of Agriculture by Moura Quayle in 1998 recognized this problem and made the suggestion of establishing a provincial land bank, or ‘BC Lands Trust’ to improve the management of ALR land. This recommendation was never acted upon however remains a relevant recommendation today. The recommendation includes the following (Quayle, 1998):
“Promote Integrated Land Management: A BC Lands Trust
- Establish a BC Lands Trust with an umbrella trust for agriculture so that a percentage of the billions of dollars of intergenerational wealth in the province can be put to good use as citizens are encouraged to donate their land or their cash assets to the Trust
Promote agriculture reparation and innovation through a comprehensive agri-food policy that includes:
- Creating an Agriculture Infrastructure Fund under the proposed BC Lands Trust to help provide a reasonable return on land investment and for growth opportunities through innovation in agriculture;
- Supporting education and basic research partnerships; and
- Encouraging the next generation of farmers with the possibility of land leases and capital loans through the Agricultural Infrastructure Fund.”
To read the full report: Stakes in the Ground: Provincial Interest in the Agricultural Land Commission Act.
BC currently does not have a government or non-governmental agricultural land trust in operation and there is opportunity to develop such an initiative, and opportunity for sectoral collaboration. A government land bank at the provincial and/or municipal government level could hold land and work in collaboration with a non-governmental or community-based organization for the management of that land. Please see the section on farmland trusts for further information on the current context of and the potential for non-profit/non-governmental organizations to contribute to farmland protection and access in British Columbia.
Land can be owned by the municipal government. The amount of public land held at the municipal level varies between municipalities and the total amount of land held by municipalities in BC is unknown. Land owned by the municipality is used for a variety of purposes (public parks, recreation centers, community gardens, etc.) and there are cases in which farmland is held by the municipality and is actively being used for farming.
The mechanism through which public farmland is made available to farmers, the structure through which the land is managed and the operating arrangements of the farmers on the land varies case by case and are determined by the municipality, typically in conjunction with a non-governmental organization who oversees the management of the land and the access agreements with farmers.
1) Haliburton Farm
2) Richmond Incubator Farm
3) Newman Farm
4) Southlands (proposed)
Organizations addressing the use of public land for farming:
CR-FAIR (Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable) Policy and Planning division has produced a series of policy discussion papers regarding the involvement of the municipality in farmland planning and management. Visit the CR-FAIR Policy and Planning project website or click the links below to go straight to the discussion papers.
Richmond Food Security Society carried out an inventory of available lands for farming in the City of Richmond. Some of the parcels identified as being suitable for farming and available are owned by the municipality. The report contains suggestions for increasing land access in Richmond both on municipally owned as well as private land. Click here to view the report.
BC Minisitry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. (2014). Land Tenure Branch. Retrieved from http://www.for.gov.bc.ca/land_tenures/
West Coast Environmental Law. (2014). Aboriginal Law. Retrieved from http://wcel.org/our-work/aboriginal-law
Quayle, Moira. (1998). Stakes in the Ground: Provincial Interest in the Agricultural Land Commission Act. A report to the Minister of Agriculture and Food. BC Ministry of Agriculture and Lands. Retrieved from http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca/polleg/quayle/stakes.htm