British Columbia

B.C.'s 'oldest working farm' is up for lease on Salt Spring Island

British Columbia's "oldest working farm" in the Southern Gulf Islands is up for lease — but the guy who's been running it for nearly 30 years hopes he'll get to stay. 

Province has issued a request for proposals for Ruckle Park Heritage Farm

Ruckle Farm on Salt Spring Island grows fruits and vegetables and has a variety of livestock, including sheep. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

British Columbia's "oldest working farm" is up for lease in the Southern Gulf Islands — but the guy who's been running it for decades hopes he'll get to stay. 

Ruckle Park Heritage Farm is located in Ruckle Provincial Park on Salt Spring Island. Laura Patrick, a Salt Spring Island Trustee with the Islands Trust, says the farm and the park are a crown jewel for islanders and visitors alike. 

"It's a gem," Patrick said over the phone between meetings. "It's a beautiful setting and to me it's what Salt Spring and the Gulf Islands are all about."

The farm grows fruits — mostly apples and pears — and vegetables, and has a variety of livestock. It also includes some heritage buildings that people can visit on their way to the provincial campsite. 

The Ruckle family first bought the 82-hectare farm in the 1870s. Last year, when the last of them died, it was officially handed over to B.C. Parks as part of an agreement signed with the family in 1973. 

Request for proposals issued

The province recently issued a request for proposals for a person or corporation to operate the farm, which it calls the "oldest working farm" in B.C. 

Mike Lane, 60, has been working on Ruckle farm since 1990, first as a farm hand helping the family out, and later leasing the farm from them to run it himself as they got older. 

The farm is part of Ruckle Provincial Park, a popular area for locals and visitors alike. (Flickr/Ruth Hartnup)

Lane says he feels uneasy knowing that the lease might go to someone else. 

"I'm not real comfortable with it," he said. "I guess I have to complete this proposal process and wait and see what happens."  

No 'significant changes' 

According to documents released prior to the RFP, the province will consider allowing new activity on the farm but isn't "entertaining significant changes to how the farm and broader park area will look and feel."

Lane says over the years he has invested a lot of time maintaining and upgrading the farm, including miles of fences he built by hand. 

If he isn't the successful applicant, Lane says, he'll have to leave by the end of 2020.

 

"It takes a while to liquidate this much assets of farm equipment and livestock and everything else. You can't just put your stuff in a suitcase," he said.

If that happens, he's not sure what he'll do next. Lane says there isn't much money in farming, and anything he would have invested into retirement savings has gone into operating the farm instead. 

The province wouldn't say how much interest the RFP has garnered so far, but Lane says some officials told him at least a couple of people were interested. 

'They love it'

Trustee Laura Patrick says she doesn't think many Salt Spring Islanders are aware the farm is up for lease. 

"I really hope that B.C. parks will be open with the islanders and invite them in to share what they're doing," she said.

 

Brenda Guiled, co-founder of Friends of Ruckle Park and author of a book on the history of the area, says she hopes the province keeps the park as a place for people to connect with nature and learn about farming.

The Ruckle family often invited visitors onto the farm, Guiled says, and left the farm to the province in a sense of duty to continue that work.

"It's a place where people come to visit and everyone who comes to visit here knows it and they love it," she said. 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

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