Saanich Peninsula decision makers have been drawn to Newman Farm in recent weeks, exploring the idea of using it as a model for future community farms.
Tuesday saw Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith join his Central Saanich counterpart Ryan Windsor on a tour of the property, which was also attended by Central Saanich Coun. Gord Newton and the District’s new climate action specialist Maryanna Kenney.
The party toured the farm’s grounds and were shown the restored main farmhouse, which is likely to become a museum, in the future. It is run by the Farmlands Trust Society (FLT Society) and grows a variety of produce, including zucchini, carrots, marrows, beets, kale, turnips and garlic. Much of it goes to Our Place Society, the Victoria community centre that serves the vulnerable, with 18,600 pounds of food a year providing 1,500 healthy meals each day. The farm boasts an orchard of 26 fruit trees, and sponsors have recently supplied 50 more. Some of the fruit goes to those in need and a portion is donated to a therapeutic riding group’s horses in Victoria.
“It’s a jewel in the crown of Central Saanich and we brought it back from going backwards and instead provide fresh, good food, free of insecticides,” says Carol Pickup, FLT Society chair.
The farm is relatively unique in Greater Victoria, both in its operation and outcomes, and is increasingly being seen as a model for what can be achieved with vacant farmland and a supportive council. On the tour, a vehicle from Our Place made its weekly stop, loading up multiple crates of freshly picked vegetables, as part of the farm’s “from field to plate” program.
The community is invited to join @FarmlandsTrust at historic Newman Farm in #Saanichton Saturday, August 10, to assist with maintaining the veggie garden plot and raised garden beds. To RSVP: https://t.co/WGB9qit9Xl #CSaan pic.twitter.com/qTL4ZvmF5r
— Central Saanich (@CSaanich) August 8, 2019
Newman Farm operates in a spirit of collaboration with a number of community groups and sponsors, as well as regular visits from volunteers, who drop by to help plant, weed and pick. The District of Central Saanich, which owns the land, is their biggest supporter, having provided a 10-year lease and offers much financial and in-kind help.
The FLT Society is keen for it to be known that Newman Farm doesn’t compete with established farmers, as its food goes to charity.
Farming issues and a diverse range of passionate opinion has simmered over the last few months, with difficult decisions facing Peninsula politicians. Constituents have raised concerns of food insecurity, aging farm ownership and a serious lack of affordable housing across the Peninsula. Recently, a CRD Farmlands Trust was mooted and North Saanich is currently trying to work out what to do with the Sandown lands, both contentious issues.
Down on Newman Farm, among the sunflowers swaying under a cobalt blue sky, these challenges seem far away.
Right now, the board is keen for volunteers. Years when money and manpower is scarce, the end fields are given over to the wildflowers and bees for the season. This year, they hope the land will be productive, supplying more free food to some of Greater Victoria’s most needy residents.
For more information visit farmlandstrust.org.