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Deep Seeded Relationships 

The Farmers Institute and the Farmland Trust Society, a look back in time. 

Photo: Farmers Institute President Bruce Marshall is presenting a $50,000 cheque to Patricia Reichert, Farmland Trust president, to start construction on The Root. Also present are Trish Robitaille Farmland Trust director, Mike Lakin Farmers Institute director, and Larry Starke, Farmland Trust Treasurer

History of the Farmland Trust and the Farmers Institute 

The Salt Spring Island Farmland Trust Society was created in 2009 after a comprehensive Area Farm Plan identified the need for a Farmland Trust on Salt Spring. With an intention in mind, members of the Salt Spring Island Farmers Institute came together to propose how this new group would organise, and what its mandate would be. This article is written as a way to honour those who played a pivotal role in developing the Farmland Trust, and to highlight the depth of relationships built over time.  

The Farmers Institute was established in 1895, and over the years has offered workshops, gatherings, and most notably, the beloved Salt Spring Island Fall Fair, which sees our community coming together yearly over a shared love for agriculture. Although the Farmers Institute was already doing so much for agriculture on the island, they realized a capacity limit for acquiring and managing new Farmland, and so the Farmland Trust was born with the mandate to acquire, restore, and maintain farmland; develop community gardens; and steward food and farming educational programs to create a more sustainable, knowledgeable, and food-secure community.

For nearly a decade the Farmland Trust board was structured to include at least two members each of the Farmers Institute, Island Natural Growers, and one member of the agriculture community at large. Today, although the Farmland Trust has changed its board structure to accept a wide variety of community members outside of these organizations, it still remains central that agricultural interests are kept front and centre.

Burgoyne Valley Community Farm

Core to what the Farmland Trust does is manage the 60 acre Burgoyne Valley Community Farm, which was made possible by a land donation from the Farmers Institute, who in 20212 gifted the property to the Farmland Trust. This was done with the understanding that this Farmland would remain in-tact for the benefit of the community for years to come. Today the Burgoyne Valley Community Farm boasts a thriving Community Garden, home to 90 individual garden plots, 4 commercial farms, and a Community Services farm that services the local food bank and food security programs. 

The Root Food Hub 

Also included in the Area Farm Plan was the need to develop farm infrastructure, and so The Root Food Hub was identified as a place where farmers could take produce to process for market. Once more, the Farmland Trust was identified as the entity most suited to take on management of this property, and there were lengthy negotiations about what the Root Food hub would offer. The Farmers Institute was pivotal to these negotiations, and generously donated $50,000 to the Roots development. 

Overtime the meaning of the Root Food Hub has changed, and rather than being a point for farmers take produce to process, its main focus now is to aggregate and distribute food through local distribution services such as Local Salt, to house cold storage for local produces, to support small food business through the Root Commercial Kitchen and other rental properties, to house the Seed Sanctuary Society Seed Bank, and to act as a gathering place for the Farmland Trust communal activities and Root Permaculture Gardens. Although things have changed in time it's clear that it was collaboration between agricultural organizations that made the Root, and the Burgoyne Valley Community Farm, both treasured community assets, possible. 

A Special Thanks to the Salt Spring Island Farmers Institute 

This article was made possible by the dedication of the latest Farmland Trust board, who have identified the need to foster relationships between the various agricultural organizations on Salt Spring. A special thanks is also given to Marguerite Lee, who was there from the inception of the Farmland Trust, and has served the Farmers’ Institute for nearly 4 decades.

When asked what the best way for the Farmland Trust and the Farmers Institute is to collaborate together in the future, Marguerite emphasized that communication is central to this relationship. Something that became clear when writing this article is that history can disappear if you don’t talk about it, and that beautiful things happen when you do

“The essence of agriculture today on Salt Spring represents the three essentials for life: Clean air, water, and healthy food. Agriculture must also remain a primary area for planning, so that when we talk about other issues, we need to think about agriculture with them, and not as a side effect; agriculture is right up there with environmental and social issues, and that you can’t have one without the other” - Marguerite Lee


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