News Local

Surrey goes Airbnb for farming

By Stefania Seccia

A farm in the Fraser Valley.

A farm in the Fraser Valley. Fotolia

One Surrey councillor is making it his mission to see any given restaurant menu in the city lay claim that 80% of the food served is locally grown.

That’s why the city is working on the virtual incubator farm project by taking the Airbnb model and making it all about cultivating farmland, according to Coun. Mike Starchuk, Agriculture and Food Security Advisory Committee chair.

“My goal is to take the knowledge, skills and abilities of our young farmers and provide them with some lease-hold agreement, financing, so we can have some young agricultural people in the system to start producing food in the City of Surrey for the people of Surrey,” he said.

Surrey has one-third of the land in the overall Agricultural Land Reserve, and this project is the first one of its kind in B.C. – but similar programs are already up and running in Quebec and Ontario.

Starchuk said the farmer base is aging and not being replenished with a younger group of people — who can face such obstacles in starting up a farm as land cost.

“The number-one thing that stops anybody farming in the city is the cost of the land,” he said. “But there’s plenty of room out there today, around the city, that’s not being fully utilized for agricultural purposes.”

With the dwindling number of farmers, compounded by unused agricultural land often being bought by private firms hoping to remove the ALR designation, Starchuk said the project might be the missing link to spawn new interest in harvesting that a younger population may have thought impossible.

“It’s a portal of information, a place to get to that, it’s the Airbnb and Trip Advisor to tell you where all the spots are,” he said.

The portal would connect land owners within the ALR to fledgling farmers with a lease to cultivate the land that they wouldn’t otherwise afford to buy.

Stephen Wu, economic investment strategist with the city, said the project aims to stimulate more agricultural practices in Surrey.

“The concept is really ... land linking,” he said.

Wu said the city has partnered with Young Agrarians on the project.