Foodlands Trust Project

Foodlands Cooperative Project Backgrounder — April 2015


Project Description

Farmland in British Columbia is becoming increasingly inaccessible to new and existing farmers as a result of rising land prices, urbanization, and non-farm uses. At the same time, urban expansion and other resource extraction sectors create pressures on indigenous foodlands used for hunting, gathering and foraging. The Foodlands Trust Project was initiated in 2014 to contribute innovative solutions to farming and foodland protection and accessibility. A protected and actively farmed land base that recognizes and respects Indigenous food systems and the environment is the foundation of a sustainable agricultural sector and food system in British Columbia.


The primary objective of the Foodlands Cooperative Project is to create and enable a governance and financial model for holding foodlands in trust and/or under covenant, specific to British Columbia, in partnership with leaders in the agricultural and land trust sectors. The Foodlands Cooperative aims to serve a complementary function to BC's Agricultural Land Reserve policy through facilitating access to farming and foodlands. The term "foodland" aims to recognize the diversity of food harvesting systems, recognize the colonial history of agricultural land policies, and open a dialogue between farmland protection and access initiatives and Indigenous land rights.

Project Background

The Foodlands Cooperative Project emerged from the ongoing work of FarmFolk CityFolk's Community Farms Program (CFP). The CFP was established in 2006 with The Land Conservancy of BC (TLC), a provincial trust with a mandate to acquire and protect land with cultural, ecological, and historical value, including working farmland. After TLC discontinued their farm program in 2012, FarmFolk CityFolk continued to provide support for alternative, community-led models of farmland ownership, access, and governance in BC. FFCF is currently partnering with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiative Roundtable (CR-FAIR) on local government supported farmland access and preservation models.

After nearly a decade of supporting farmers and communities to collaboratively manage and access farmland for sustainable food production, the CFP has identified the need for a provincial level trust organization to scale-up these initiatives. CFP regularly receives both requests from farmers and communities seeking support to put land in trust and statements of interest for land donations from outgoing farmers or landowners. Currently, those requests cannot be fulfilled, given the absence of a provincial level organization that can hold working farmland in trust. We also see opportunities to be allies in the advancement of First Nations' initiatives to protect and access traditional foodlands.

Project Stage 1 (Current): January 2015 -  August 2015

Background Research Findings

The Farmland Access Research Project at UBC's Faculty of Land and Food Systems has been collaborating as a research partner with CFP since 2008. Research conducted in 2013/14 documented  growth in alternative land access models in BC, barriers to new farm establishment, opportunities and challenges of alternative land access models, and a current lack of capacity within established trusts for advancing farmland trust activities in BC.

Key research findings support the Foodland Trust Project:

  • Land access was identified as a highly significant barrier to young and beginning farmers. While numbers of young farmers have declined over the past three decades, we have also seen a re-emergence of interest in farming, reflected in networks such as the Young Agrarians and BC Young Farmers. At the same time, over half of BCÕs farming population is nearing retirement age.  Developing innovative farmland transfer and succession solutions are timely and necessary to ensure working farms continue working.
  • Current and prospective farmers who are unable to buy land are looking for alternatives to individual ownership.
  • Many of the land access solutions employed by beginning farmers, such as land linking programs, incubator farms, and land sharing models, lack long term tenure and stability.
  • Conservation trust organizations have proven successful and are growing in scope across Canada. Several provincial trusts hold ranchland or covenants on farmland for habitat conservation, but are limited in their ability to hold actively farmed land. Some small community and regional trust organizations have emerged; but are limited in geographic scope, resources, and capacity to hold and manage land.

Farmland Trust Models

Our team is explored four farmland trust models through research and consultations:

  1. Integration of provincial trust operations into an existing non-profit organization: A farmland trust would be created as a program of an existing non-profit organization. This model would leverage an existing organizational structure, established governance process, human resources, public support, and financing streams. If established as a program of an existing trust the legal structures for land acquisition and holding covenants would be in place. If established within an existing non-profit that is not a trust, the non-profit would need to apply for the legal status to receive land and hold covenants from the provincial government.
  2. Cooperative Trust: A trust organization would be established as a registered cooperative and membership would include existing cooperative and community trust farms, community organizations working to support farmland protection and access, food and farming organizations, and existing community and regional land trusts. The cooperative trust could hold land and covenants in its own right as well as provide support to its member organizations to acquire and manage working foodlands.
  3. New stand-alone provincial trust organization: This model entails the creation of a new non-profit organization, which would need to secure legal status to receive and hold land and covenants from the provincial government. The vision, mandate, organizational structure, and operations would be created by stakeholders and be tailored specifically to meeting the farmland trust objectives. This provincial model would operate projects (land acquisition, receipt of lands, and covenants) in partnership with regional groups or trusts based in the community in which land is located whenever possible.
  4. Municipally integrated regional farmland trust: This model entails the creation of a farmland trust in partnership with a municipality or regional district. A pilot of this model is being developed with the municipality of Saanich, which passed a motion to support the exploration of a farmland trust in 2014. This model would create a direct means to leverage human and financial resources and to manage public lands for farming through the municipality or regional district.

Our project team is in the process of consulting with stakeholders to gain feedback and input on these proposed models. Group consultations completed include: Community Farms Network (Feb 2014), Certified Organic Associations of BC (Feb 2014), BC Food Systems Network Gathering (June 2014), Kootenay Regional Consultation (Feb 2015). Individual consultations completed to date include previous Ministers of Agriculture, current Ministry of Agriculture staff, municipal and regional planning staff and councilors, trust organization representatives and rural development organization representatives. Further consultations remain to be completed through June 2015. Following the consultations, we will initiate a provincial steering committee to review our findings on the four proposed models and to advise on next steps for implementing a foodland trust.

Project Stage 2 (proposed): September 2015 – August 2018

The overarching objective of Stage 2 is to put the findings from Stage 1 into practice through the development and establishment of the selected foodland trust model and commencement of operations through a pilot project. This is a long term, multi-year project and can be divided into three broad phases:

  1. Organizational development: Experts and steering committee engaged for organizational, business, legal and financial planning. Indigenous liaison engaged. Governance model, organizational structure, business plan, financial model finalized and approved by steering committee.
  2. Operational development: A legal entity is created and development of operational protocols, fundraising, and public outreach undertaken under the direction of the steering committee. Legal and organizational development consultants engaged.
  3. Pilot project: Undertake a farmland management pilot project to launch the trust, to solidify operational procedures, and build public trust in the organization.

Please feel free to contact us with any project inquiries at:

FarmFolk CityFolk Farm Program Manager
Heather Pritchard:

Capital Region Food & Agriculture
Initiative (CR-FAIR) Coordinator

Linda Geggie:

UBC Faculty of Land and Food Systems
Farmland Access Research Project
Principal Investigator

Dr. Hannah Wittman:

Research Assistant
Keeley Nixon

We thank our project funders, the Real Estate Foundation of BC and Vancity Credit Union for their continued support.