A group of Langford-based farmers were hoping to gain council’s financial support. Instead, the discussion surrounding Lohbrunner Farm and Langford’s agricultural policies turned into a heated exchange.
“We strongly believe in small-scale agriculture and strongly believe in the need to get kids onto that land,” said Diana Brubaker, a representative of the Lohbrunner Community Farm Co-operative. “We asked for what we realize was a lot of money to get us up and going.”
Langford’s administration and finance committee previously considered the co-operative’s funding request of $45,000 for property and program development in 2017, plus an additional $67,000 in 2018. The committee denied their request.
Coun. Denise Blackwell asked if the original request was itemized. “Perhaps there’s a piece of what they’re asking for … that we could find to fund this year,” she said.
In response Brubaker’s husband, Doug, noted a fence and water system were their first priority. The farm is currently serviced by a 3/4-inch Capital Regional District water line and as Doug said, when a toilet flushes in the house, the pressure drops off in the sprinkler system. “Without a fence and water it’s not going to happen,” he said.
Diana Brubaker also noted the co-operative is looking to develop partnerships with schools in Langford and Colwood that would see children involved in the farming process and she hoped Langford could find some money in its agricultural fund.
In the fall of 2015, the City submitted a block of roughly 40 properties to the Agricultural Land Commission to be considered for exclusion from the Agricultural Land Reserve. Once removed, the City proposed, property owners would be charged a fee that would go into a fund with which the City would buy farmland to rent to groups that would farm it. Last summer the ALC rejected most of the properties for exclusion, with the exception of several smaller lots. However, that decision is under review and the City has yet to hear the results.
“Langford is in the market to buy farmland … Council just started to really sink this into policy,” said Langford Mayor Stew Young, reiterating the fund could only be used to purchase land.
However, the fund idea did not sit well with Brubaker. “I’m going to speak for myself – maybe the Lohbrunner Co-operative as well – but I do not want any money from land that was taken out of the ALR … We’re here to support agriculture.”
Young was quick to respond. “We’re here to support land that can be farmed,” he said.
In 2007, Langford resident Norma Lohbrunner donated her family’s farm to The Land Conservancy through a “life estate” agreement. Since her passing in 2011, a group of farmers has continued to care for the land, which is within the ALR.
However, TLC was forced through a court order to sell some of its holdings to pay creditors. Last year, FarmFolk CityFolk, a not-for-profit society based on Granville Island, acquired the property with the larger goal of developing a provincewide Food Land Trust. Lohbrunner Farm was the first parcel acquired for this trust and has been leased to the Lohbrunner Community Farm Co-operative for 29 years to maintain daily operations, grow the farm and provide space to rent to young farmers on the roughly 12-acre operation.
“You’re asking us to put money … into land you don’t own,” Young said. “It’s very difficult for us to do that when we’ve done it in the past and it’s failed.” He suggested the co-operative approach FarmFolk CityFolk to see if they would be interested in selling the land to the City and noted he’d be interested in meeting with the organization.
Coun. Lanny Seaton added that if Langford owned the property there would be other revenue sources and funds to pull from for improvements.
Brubaker noted that Lohbrunner had the option to leave the land to the City but decided not to and her wishes are what the co-operative is trying to protect. “The property is not for sale to Langford,” she added.
That comment didn’t sit well with Young.
Later in the meeting, when council voted to include funding recommendations from the administration and finance committee in the City’s proposed 2017 budget, Coun. Lillian Szpak asked that council consider including a yet-to-be determined amount for programs at Lohbrunner Farm and Mary’s Farm and Sanctuary. “That way we’re not investing taxpayers’ money into hard infrastructure and lands that we don’t have any control over, but we are providing some financial support,” she noted.
Council agreed, but only if room could be found in the cost of living increase for the 2017 budget, or an additional revenue stream was identified.