Vantreight and Woodwynn: two sustainability models

April 1, 2010 at 10:47 pm Leave a comment

The second part of my look at three local farms that are reinventing themselves in very different ways. Published at VibrantVictoria.ca.

Does agriculture have a sustainable future in the Victoria region? According to two local farmers, the answer is yes. An earlier article profiled Madrona Farm in Saanich’s Blenkinsop Valley, which is at the finish line of a bid to turn the farm over to The Land Conservancy. This article profiles two local farms that are struggling to find ways to stay relevant.

Vantreight’s Hill Project

In Central Saanich, long-time daffodil farmer Ian Vantrieght has a plan to ensure long-term stability: transforming several acres of what he calls non-productive land on his property on Wallace Drive into 58 single family homes. After buying out his brother Michael for control of the farm in 2006, Ian initially conceived a plan to develop a mix of townhomes and single-family-homes (89 units in total) on the calved-off piece of land. Dubbed The Hill Project, the plans for the 33-acre site have since been downscaled and have been ping-ponging through the development process for over three years. Dozens of iterations were drawn up and scrapped (Vantreight counts 82) and contentious meetings were held at Central Saanich Council with project critics, supporters, the CRD, Council and Staff debating everything from the merits of developing on the Agricultural Land Reserve to interpretations of the Regional Growth Strategy.

Uphill Struggle

Although much of the Vantreight holdings are still devoted to daffodils, the family has diversified by increasing number of acres to greenhouse production and the introduction of a wider range of agricultural products. But Vantreight admits even this is not enough to guarantee the economic viability of the 126-year old farm.

Vantreight’s voice is weary as he describes the latest turn of events and what could happen if the plan falls through. He is determined to pay off the debt incurred to secure the family farm, but warns if the Hill Project site is sold off to other farmers, there is no guarantee it won’t be further subdivided into hobby farms with limited or no food production.

Last Monday evening, Central Saanich Council received the latest application for review. It will then wind its way through the various departments and the Advisory Planning Commission before coming before Council again later this Spring.

Woodwynn’s “hand up”

Woodwynn Farm, also in Central Saanich at the Saanich Inlet side of the peninsula, is in the midst of a dramatic transition. Managed by Richard Leblanc, the 193-acre farm on Saanich Road West is gearing up for a mid-April 2010 opening of what Leblanc describes as a “therapeutic community.” Modeled after a similar concept in Italy engineered at ending chronic homelessness, LeBlanc is busy planning for the arrival of the first four workers at the organic farm. Unlike court-ordered work projects, labourers at Woodwyn Farms will be there of their own accord–participation is wholly voluntary.

Leblanc is enthusiastic as he details the remaining things on his “to do” list as the deadline approaches–right down to the delivery of bedding and pillows–yet expresses frustration at the struggle of getting Woodwynn established and traditional methods of “managing” homelessness that do nothing more than hustle clients through a revolving door of dependence. “Enough is enough,” Leblanc says, describing how the therapeutic community aspect to the farm is designed to break the cycle of homelessness by removing clients from the lure of the street.

Concept hobbled by neighbours

The homeless will not be permitted to live on the farm itself, however. Thanks to Not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) neighbours who feared the farm would become an institution, Central Saanich Council forbade Woodwynn Farm from having on-site accommodation — instead allowing to have workers live in nearby housing. Leblanc hopes saner heads will prevail one day and the zoning will be rectified.

Of the over 70 homeless and marginalized people who expressed interest in attending, 16 have been shortlisted and four will initially be invited. As the program ramps up, 12 people at a time will eventually be enrolled in a program of farm labour and life skills training; 500 people over the course of a decade. Victoria businessman and former Mayoral candidate Rob Reid supports Leblanc’s plan, calling it “a hand up, rather than a hand out.” Reid, who found out about the farm while researching solutions to downtown Victoria’s social ills, later became a Board member of the Creating Homefulness Society which oversees the project.

Unlike other social programs, the Woodwynn Farms project is not accepting funding from government agencies, preferring the long-term stability of private funding. Until Mothers’ Day, May 9, an anonymous benefactor is matching donations to the Woodwynn Farm project to a maximum of $150,000.

To discuss the Vantreight Farm on the VibrantVictoria.ca discussion forum, click here. To discuss the Woodwynn Farm, click here.

Copyright © 2010 by VibrantVictoria.ca. All rights reserved.

Entry filed under: architecture, Environmental, Victoria's economy.

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