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What will dividing B.C.'s farmland mean for the future of our food supply?

Chefs from Vancouver to Whistler speak out against controversial bill


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A bill that passed last week, which will divide up B.C.'s farmland and allow for non-agricultural uses to be considered, has understandably struck a nerve with farmers across the province.

Now, renowned chefs from Vancouver to Whistler are joining the chorus opposing the controversial move by B.C. Liberals to makeover the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), saying it could have a massive impact on British Columbians' food supply for years to come.

"It could have a huge effect just as the local food movement and local products are at their apex... so the fact we'd be sacrificing agricultural land doesn't really make sense," said Araxi Restaurant Executive Chef James Walt, one of the country's early pioneers of farm-to-table cooking.

The controversial Bill 24, which passed amidst hefty criticism from opposition with a vote of 46 to 30, will put protected farmland into two distinct zones, relaxing restrictions to farmland development in the zone comprising the Interior and B.C.'s North.

Hundreds of farmers across the province spoke out against the bill after it was proposed in March, worried that it will open the door for large-scale development on coveted farmland.

Around 90 per cent of B.C.'s crops are grown in Zone 1, which includes the Lower Mainland, the Sea to Sky, Vancouver Island and Okanagan — land the government says will remain untouched.

"Well, that's still 10 per cent of our farmland, and as we grow and grow we're going to need that land," said Scott Jaeger, president of the Chefs' Table Society of BC. "Forty years from now we'll be having this conversation again, and what will we be saying? That we still have enough farmland protected?"

Jaeger, who also serves as chef owner of Vancouver's Pear Tree Restaurant, rallied other city chefs and restaurateurs at an event ahead of the vote in the legislature to raise awareness of what the bill will mean to B.C.'s culinary industry.

"If it's easier for chefs to pick up the phone and call an importer for product, well eventually that will become the trend," said Jaeger, who sources ingredients from farms in both Zone 1 and Zone 2.

B.C. already relies heavily on cheaper food imports from California and Mexico, and, with the ALR being split in two, Walt sees the future of ingredient-driven cuisine at risk.

"With a lot of young new chefs coming up, (local) is everyone's focus, and I don't think that's just here, but everywhere," he said. "A lot of cuisines, especially with us here (at Araxi), are ingredient driven first and foremost, so if you're unable to get certain things, then it will definitely have an effect on the way you cook, what you're able to offer and how regional you can be."

Now that the bill, while not finalized, has passed in the legislature, Jaeger said he will "continue to let the powers that be know that food is important to us, that the public is aware that this change has happened and that the bill is still being written and developed, and we need to pay attention.

"Today, maybe the effect isn't instant, but it certainly will be there in the future."

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