CBC Digital Archives

Urban sprawl forces out B.C. farmers

Whether they raise wheat, peaches, beef or potatoes, the Canadians who run our family farms have sometimes struggled to keep pace with the demand for cheap, abundant food. Threats to the family farm have ranged from the high cost of land and crippling interest rates to corporate competition and encroaching cities. Some farmers have adapted and thrived, but for others the strain has proven too much. CBC Archives looks at the evolving family farm.

Evelina Vaupotic is among the last of a vanishing breed: the Terra Nova farmer. Vaupotic grows 22 types of vegetables in B.C.'s Fraser River valley in a region that was supposed to be strictly for agricultural use. But the municipality wanted room to grow. It appealed to the province to revoke the agricultural status of about 400 acres in Terra Nova. Seduced by good prices for their land, Vaupotic's neighbours have given up farming. But she's not giving in.

In this documentary for the CBC's Sunday Morning, Vaupotic says she's staying put because it doesn't make economic sense for her to farm elsewhere. She's surrounded by empty farms awaiting the bulldozer. The developers who now own the land won't lease to farmers, allowing the land to deteriorate. It won't be long before the municipality -- which will earn much more property tax from houses than farms -- rezones the farmland for residential use. 
• Agricultural land in Canada is divided into seven classes that determine its ability to grow crops. Generally, only classes 1 to 3 are considered prime farm land.
• In British Columbia, only one per cent of land falls into classes 1 to 3. The majority of this land is in the Okanagan Valley and Lower Mainland, which are also home to two million people.

• Over half of Canada's Class 1 land is in southern Ontario, as are Toronto, Mississauga and Hamilton, three of the largest cities in Canada.
• The 2001 census found that the average cost of farmland in Ontario was $7482 per hectare. Near Toronto, the average cost was $26,614. The contrast was even greater in British Columbia, where farmland cost an average of $5,051 for the province as a whole but $62,367 near Vancouver.

• "Because the profits from putting in a subdivision are enormous, farmland near the urban fringe will always be under a great deal of pressure." — John Bacher, president, Preservation of Agricultural Land Society, 1995
• In March 2005 the government of Ontario defined the boundaries of a greenbelt surrounding the Greater Toronto Area. Legislation was passed to make the area, which covers 7,200 square kilometres, off-limits to development and preserve it as farmland.

• Some farmers whose property fell within the greenbelt were unhappy with the legislation. They said they deserved compensation for the depressed value of their land, which they could suddenly never expect to sell for a good return.
• Once farmland is converted to other uses — residential, commercial and industrial — it is nearly impossible for it to revert to agricultural use. The soil structure is damaged by road construction, housing and sewage systems.
Medium: Radio
Program: Sunday Morning
Broadcast Date: June 5, 1988
Guest(s): Barry Dykes, Olga Illich, Hugh Mawby, Ian Paton, Evelina Vaupotic
Reporter: Carol Jerome
Duration: 7:30

Last updated: April 2, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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