Agricultural Zone Setbacks—2nd view

Update to the Agricultural Zone Setbacks posts: At the Oct. 12 Richmond council meeting, it seemed from the various informed presentations by citizens that neither of the two alternative Ricmond Agricultural Zone bylaws is ideal in the longer term. It came out that the provincial government is preparing guidelines for matters like the setbacks of buildings on farmland (a factor in potential agricultural productivity). The chair of the Agricultural Advisory Committee and Richmond Farmer’s Institute stated that the newer alternative was a concern for legal liability reasons, and that seemed to be the deciding factor. Council voted to go back from the newer alternative, which Arzeena Hamir preferred, to the previous bylaw.

I’m guessing that the topic will be looked at again when the provincial guidelines are ready, and my impression is that something better than either of the existing alternatives will emerge. For another take on the outcome, you might also read a Province blog post, “A house in the country.”

This post by guest blogger April Reeves provides an alternative view to Arzeena Hamir’s. April and Arzeena are both aiming for productive farmland but in different ways. Further details about the relevant council meeting are provided in the post below this one. Update: Arzeena’s presentation at the council seemed to incorporate part of April’s thinking as one of the possible ways to arrive at a better longer-term answer that will encourage more productive use of farmland (while, I hope, also being fair to property owners).

I’m all for keeping the ALR alive. I’m all for farming all ALR land. However, having gone through this same problem in Alberta in the late 70’s, I feel the whole point of farmland is being completely missed.

Building setbacks do not, in any way, change the nature of what the land is being used “for”. I formed a group of neighbors and went to the Rocky View MD (north of Calgary). We did not care about the house size. We did not care where buildings were put in relation to the land. What was of most importance, was that all ALR lands were there for the purpose of farming: growing something.

We asked for the “Country Residences” being built at the time (same as what’s happening in Richmond today) to have a specific amount of land in production. While the city folk in their new country homes were not about to start growing veggies, they did decide, on their own, to build in the center of their land, and rim their properties with hay, trees and other crops.

There were NO exceptions. Everyone had to grow something. No one could pay higher residential taxes. They had to prove a farm income to keep their lands in “farm status”. It was some time ago now, but I do believe they had to provide this proof or pay some rather hefty fines, much higher than a residential Richmond tax.

As I drive north of Calgary today, I still see this in effect, and I see that most of the productive hay for livestock is now being cut on Country Residences, especially this year, as Alberta hay crops were flooded out. 

It feels as though we have missed this point when setbacks were created. I do understand the other side: to some degree. However, gravel pits are not agriculture, trucking companies are not agriculture. . . .

Scrapping the setbacks is a starting point, but we must back it up with an alternate plan to restore and protect lands that will one day have to feed us. Calgary was a great learning tool for me—it can be done, and for anyone with any sense of vision will know, it must be done.

For those you know who still think food comes from Safeway, let me do a short education on the Global food crisis of 2010:

1. Canadian farmers have lost Billions from crop damage—flooding being the major component, next to drought in the north (Peace River).

2. In hotter climates, crops either burned or became victim to drought. Declines were 35% to 75%.

3. Russia lost over half their wheat crops and has now closed all wheat exports. Countries will stop exporting in order to feed their own people. Could our major exporters experience the same one day soon (California vegetables)?

4. Commodity prices have shot up worldwide. This has caused food riots and shortages in many countries. Wheat is up over 50% (you’ll see it soon in a loaf of bread).

5. 80% of rivers worldwide are in crisis from pollution, drought and mismanagement (Reuters study, Norway).

I could continue with great detail, but the message is, we must have the vision today to keep Canada fed tomorrow. This vision is not just seeing the big picture, but the smaller version as well: that being community based. With climate change being real, and the future looking uncertain, without any ability to determine outcomes, should we not continue to preserve farmland and use “The Precautionary Principle” here? We can no longer “rely” on outside resources for our food.

Vision comes from knowledge —and an understanding of what’s happening in our world. I hope that all Councilors will rise to the challenge and make decisions for the “here and now”. This is the crucial tipping point in our evolution, where our grandchildren will either ask “why didn’t anyone see this coming?” or be grateful for the ability to feed themselves locally. Being older won’t let you off the hook: it’s likely you will experience this in your lifetime as well.

 History does not repeat itself: people repeat history.



  1. 1
    Arzeena Says:


    I think your idea goes one step further. Not only do we need to protect farmland, but we need to see it in production. To this extent, I’ll be asking council to look at what land owners in the Skagit Valley have to do. Before they can even reno a house, they need to show farm income:

    Right now, farmland isn’t be used because land owners don’t want to farm.

    If we take away that “privelage” of leaving farmland unused, I think we totally change the ballgame.


  2. 2
    Al Says:

    A relative near Edmonton has a farm and grows hay on 80 acres. She has someone else harvest it. I asked about tax perks and she couldn’t tell me, but did say that the county will nail you big time if weeds are seen especially thistle. In other words, farming is more or less by default so that weeds don’t spread.

    Regardless , there are too many overlapping laws, bylaws, bureaucracies already entrenched that to import solutions from elsewhere would either create drastic revisions or strangle people with more red tape.

  3. 3
    kewljim Says:

    Reader Gabrielle Grun ran into problems sending a comment. This is what she wanted to include:

    You should add that this affects many PRIVATE individuals on “residential” AG-zoned land. The rights of homeowners are at stake here. In contrast, the Garden City Lands is about 136 aces of square-shaped land slated for more PUBLIC use.

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