Heppell’s Potato Corp, a family-owned farm in Surrey, is fighting to stop their farm from being turned into industrial property. The farm is asking for 35,000 signatures in a petition launched by farm crop manager Tristin Bouwman.
The 220 acre farm produces a significant amount of British Columbia’s produce, which supplies grocery stores like Costco, Safeway, and Real Canadian Superstore. It also provides produce like potatoes, cabbage, and squash in B.C.
Tyler Heppell says his family has been farming on the land for the past 50 years and that the farm has never been part of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), land the province considers agriculture a “priority use.” There are about “4.6 million hectares of agriculturally suitable land” protected by the ALR in the province, according to the government’s website.
Heppell says his family’s land is owned by the federal government so rules don’t protect the farm in the ALR.
It is also not part of Surrey’s community plan, but instead part of what Heppell calls “Campbell Heights,” a place with many industrial parks and over the years the federal government has been asked to turn the area into industrial property.
“The federal government announced it as surplus land a few years ago, which means that they basically get to decide what they want to do with it,” Heppell says.
“Since it’s zoned as [mixed] employment, so industrial, it can be sold. It [cannot] be agricultural land anymore, which is really sad.”
At the time of writing, Heppell expects the lease on the farm to end in about three to five years.
While Heppell’s Potato Corp is the backbone of root vegetable farming in the province, the farm is designed to give an elevation to allow water to drain well. This means anytime there is a big rainfall, the farm can still harvest their produce and supply it to grocery stores in the community.
Heppell says there would need to be around 2.5 to three inches of rainfall to have trouble getting into their farm. Whereas, other farmers would have trouble getting in with one inch of rainfall.
The farm’s design allows them to be consistent with their supply during May and June. It also helps local produce in the province because grocery stores won’t feel the need to supply their produce from neighbouring countries.
In a report by Metro Vancouver on “food flows” in the region, only 34 per cent of B.C.’s food supply is produced in the province. While the province is doing well in supplying its own “dairy, poultry and eggs,” they are “very dependent” on the United States for fruits and vegetables.
Heppell says keeping his family farm is important for local produce, and that produce being imported from Mexico and the U.S. are more expensive than locally provided food. When produce is grown in the province, the freshness can be maintained and the price can be controlled.
Local produce creates many jobs and it impacts farmers, local markets, restaurants, and retail stores, he adds.
“We’re seeing more and more countries pull their exports, and saying we’re going to focus on our own people first before we export our produce.”
“I think we’re going to see more and more of that, so that’s why food sustainability in Canada has never been more important than it is right now,” Heppell says.
Heppell’s Potato Corp is working to meet with Surrey mayor Doug McCallum to discuss including the farmland in the city’s community plan. At the end of the day, they will have to see if the federal government makes the decision to include the farmland in the ALR, he says.
The federal government is working on “divesting the property through Public Services and Procurement Canada,” according to an emailed statement to Global News.
“The next steps after we’ve reached that 35,000 signatures, 50,000 signatures is getting the community plan rezoned to agriculture,” Heppell says.
“Then once that’s done, I believe that it will be easier for us to … show the federal government why it’s so important that this land stays in agriculture and doesn’t get developed.”