The Garden City Lands deserve a miracle too

Preface: This article was a Digging Deep column in a recent Richmond News (Sep 30, 2015). Since it isn’t on the paper’s website, I’ll share it here. This article is closely related to the one below it, which provides the historical context for the topic. That article provides links to communications from the Garden City Conservation Society to (a) the Agricultural Land Commission, (b) Richmond Council and (c) Friends of Garden City, which are all relevant to this one too.

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One corner of the Garden City Lands will greatly affect the ALR future of the lands. It is the northwest corner, a raised area of clean clay soil along Alderbridge Way east of Garden City Road. The soil needs amending, but agricultural scientists have still concluded that the area is particularly viable for agriculture.

Northwest corner of the Garden City Lands, Richmond, BC

The scientists, who all have PhDs and practical skills, are Sustainable Agriculture faculty at the Richmond Campus of Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU). They’ve tested the soil for minerals and stated how that corner can suit crop growing, orchards, farm animals, etc. That’s all knowledge they freely share.

Prospects for successful and leading-edge agriculture on the lands depend on bona fide farming of the northwest corner. For most purposes, it’s even the only area for sustainable growing and related research until dike roads allow flood control. (Like the West Dike beside the Sturgeon Banks, they’d also serve as wide trails.)

Not surprisingly, the KPU scientists have indicated for many years that they wish to farm the area, together with organic-soil land to the south. They would include research, education and outreach. That would lead to expert advice to community gardeners and new farmers, seasonal interpretive signs and much more.

As farmers of the lands, the KPU scientists and their Sustainable Agriculture students would serve as trailblazers. Through them, hard-earned lessons would be ready for passing on, enabling new growers to farm with amended soil and keep improving it.

But there’s a problem. It’s evident in a letter from the Agricultural Land Commission that the city has portrayed the northwest corner as not very suitable for agriculture, which is false. Adding to the concern, the city is taking steps to give other uses priority over bona fide farming there. Sustainable Agriculture would get a few acres, but elsewhere.

Garden City Conservation has sent a critique to alert the commission to ALR concerns about the lands. Happily, we’re experienced at that. When we emerged as a citizens’ movement long ago, we appealed to the commission to save the Garden City Lands from powerful developers, including the city.

Against all odds, we won. This time, though, we’re not sure how involved the commission will be.

We’ve shared our critique with Richmond council and urged action that gives agriculture priority. That’s in keeping with the lands’ ALR status, which the city acknowledges but undermines—with loss of integrity, legacy and community wellness.

The city’s Garden City Lands project leader has been asked to call me. However, the pervasive problem that the northwest corner illustrates seems to start higher up.

To read our letters to the commission and council and more, just google “Natural legacies versus waste.” You’ll reach my blog and see the links.

As the recent house-bylaw outcome shows, miracles can be earned. For the next miracle, we ask the city to respect the ALR status of the lands and celebrate it.

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