Steve Bridger doesn’t have enough fingers to count the number of times he’s had litter thrown on his award-winning garden in the last month.
Yesterday, as he tells it, a gleaming BMW stopped at the side of the road, a passenger opened a door and tossed out fast food wrappers.
“They didn’t see me pruning. When I hollered at them, they sped off in a spray of gravel, leaving me to clean up their mess,” he said.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon, pedestrians, joggers, cyclists, and visitors in vehicles admire and photograph Bridger’s peaceful plot, set on farmland on the winding, rural, Finn Road. The garden surrounds his 1912 cottage , spilling across the road alongside the Woodward’s Slough in an agricultural area of Richmond, a city 20 miles south of Vancouver.
Adrienne Moore, a local painter, has set up her easel. “What is that divine fragrance?” she asks, walking past beds of asters, hollyhocks, lilies, gardenias, honeysuckle, roses, and sweet William. “Oh, it’s the lavender,” Moore decides.
Bridger maneuvers his rake around clusters of violet lupines, unearthing soda cup lids and a child’s sock, mumbling about how he raked this last week, then using a gloved hand, wages war on cigarette butts permeating periwinkle ground cover.
In the three decades he has tended his garden, he’s seen littering escalate. When he first bought the place and started creating the beds, he’d pick up beer bottles and cans on Sunday mornings. “That was about it,” he said.
Over the years, candy bar wrappers and chip bags appeared. When a suburban mall was built a mile away, swathes of cardboard coffee cups and fast food containers materialized.
As fees at the local landfill have risen, so has dumping.
“Anything that can be thrown out of a car or unloaded from a van ends up here,” Price said.
Bridger recently heard a car door slam on a quiet afternoon and looked out to see a woman hauling an old computer monitor and processor out of her trunk and dumping it in his flowerbed. He stormed outside and told the woman to take it away.
“She had the gall to tell me it was a gift,” he said. “I had to threaten to phone the police before she would drag it back to her car. I know she offloaded it down the road,” said Bridger.
Price says he’s seen drivers of expensive vehicles with children in baby seats throw garbage out of their windows.
“I’ve seen couples stop, get out and casually unload garbage bags with styrofoam beside the road and then accelerate away,” said Price.
The neighbors agree fines are the solution. “We need to take photos of license plates and email them to Richmond’s by-law enforcement department. Then the City has to issue tickets so that litterers don’t come back here and ruin paradise,” said Bridger.
On this autumn Saturday morning, while a hard wind howls off the Fraser River bringing stinging gusts of rain, there’s a festive feel in a lineup of about two dozen foodies, holding onto umbrellas at the edge of a small shopping plaza.
The draw is organically grown produce offered just once a week for sale at the Sweet Digz Farm stand.
“Our goal is to provide customers with healthy produce” says Kareno Hawbolt, who has farmed for more than a decade. With her life and business partner, Kimi Hendess, Hawbolt owns Sweet Digz Farm.
“Technically, we aren’t certified organic, but we plan to start the process,” said Hawbolt.
In the meantime, Hawbolt and Hendess follow organic farming principals and use farming methods that are sustainable and harmonious with the environment and optimize the agro-ecosystem. They don’t use chemicals of any type.
Their four-acre farm is on land leased from a wealthy landowner, a stone’s throw from their farm stand.
Here, in the growing season from March to October, the couple labor in greenhouses and fields up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We grow 50 vegetable crops including beans, cabbages, corn, cucumbers, kale, leeks, lettuce, onions, parsnips, potatoes, squash, tomatillos, tomatoes and zucchini,” said Hawbolt.
It’s backbreaking work. The couple doesn’t use leading-edge technology. They don’t own a tractor, produce sorter or cultivator. The costs would wipe out profits.
Instead, the only mechanized equipment are two small gas-powered rototillers and a utility pick-up truck. Most of the work is done by hand.
It’s why customers have an almost religious fervor about supporting them. If Sweet Digz closed, there are just a handful of local farms growing produce, and no-one else delivers.
“Each week from May-September, we harvest vegetables, pack them into boxes, and deliver them to about 90 customers who have prepaid for the season,” says Hawbolt. “They get what’s fresh from the field, which varies each week.”
Friday’s the couple pick and sort vegetables into boxes and bins, which they take to their Saturday farm stand to sell to about 100 regular customers.
Sweet Digz Farm is in the City of Richmond’s South Slough District, one of the few remaining large tracts of agricultural land, 20 miles south of Vancouver.
The district covers six square miles, running east from No. 2 Road to No. 5 Road and south from Steveston Highway to the Fraser River.
“Private farmland here is technically protected,” said Hawbolt.
Since 1973, the province has expanded permitted uses on protected farmland. Bed and breakfasts, churches, commercial nurseries, golf courses, gravel pits, horse stables, kennels, private schools, soil fill operations, storage facilities, timber production and wineries are allowed.
Of these, 102 farms are owned by sole proprietors, 62 are family farms and 35 are partnership farms, one of which is Sweet Digz.
Richmond’s farms employed 1,275 workers a decade ago. Now there are 680 workers, according to Statistics Canada.
“Those who are self-employed or work for farmers, may have second jobs, pushed by rising costs and low profits,” said Helmut Pastrick, chief economist for the Canadian credit union system, and a regular Sweet Digz customer.
This is true for Hendess and Hawbolt, who put their university degrees and other skills to use in winter months.
“To supplement farm income, we’ve taught at Kwantlen Polytechnic’s Farm School, and I’ve even worked as a nanny, said Hawbolt. Hendess is a certified carpenter and takes on projects during the winter.
“The world market is giving strong signals we are entering a period of dire food shortages,” said Newman.
“The drought in California and low Canadian dollar mean we can’t rely on importing vegetables from California. Sweet Digz fills an increasing need, especially for low-income neighbours.”
How long can they hang on?
“Land security is our biggest concern. There’s no guarantee our lease will be renewed or the land won’t be rezoned,” said Hawbolt. “We can’t afford to buy since farmland sells for more $500,000 an acre. We take it day by day.”
In the meantime, Hendess and Hawbolt are philosophically committed to taking care of their fertile farmland, although the odds are stacked against them.
Their customers are grateful for the delicious food. As they become more knowledgeable they’re telling the government, “hands off farmland.”
Local farmers grow a range of crops, and, at this time of year, the easiest crop to sell is pumpkins. There are fields and fields of them.
Farmers go all out to attract residents from nearby subdivisions and from Vancouver, 20 minutes north, to farm stands.
It’s a pleasant place to live. In the early morning, we hear the gentle hum of tractors, and although the yellow leaves are falling fast, there are still a few bees buzzing as they pollinate autumn crops.
Industry would love to build on Bill McKinney’s long, straight rows of potatoes. They’d they’d love to build on Bob Wright’s zucchini patch and they’d love to build on Maria De Putter’s horse field.What’s standing in their way? The Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).
The ALR was created through legislation in 1973 to protect valuable farmland, about five per cent of British Columbia’s land base.
Although ALR land in Metro Vancouver is, for the most part, Class 1 and 2 with the highest capacity for growing food, it’s seen as a land bank for development. Developers are continually coming up with ways to have land removed and they’re often successful.
In the last 20 years, in the South Slough area of Richmond, we’ve seen the most fertile farmland in the province removed for 1960s style sprawling one and two-story shopping malls, factories, warehouses and office buildings.
Now industry claims Metro Vancouver faces a serious shortage of vacant industrial land.
A forecast and analysis released by the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks (NAOIP) Vancouver chapter and a recent speech by Robin Silvester, CEO of Port Metro Vancouver, confirms the worst: within 11 years, Metro Vancouver will run out of industrial land.
Given that agriculture is also an industry, is this necessary?
“There’s no question, we’re running out of undeveloped industrial land,” said Helmut Pastrick, Central 1 Credit Union chief economist. “But there are far better, more efficient options than using ALR Land.”
Drive or cycle around industrial parks such as Ironwood in the South Slough area, and you’ll see that about fifty per cent of the buildings are for sale or lease.
“This already developed industrial land could be used much more efficiently,” Pastrick said.
Michael Goldberg, retired dean of the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business, agrees.
“Half a dozen years ago, Vancouver feared downtown condo development would lead to a shortage of office space,” said Goldberg.
“The City of Vancouver banned condos from the core in favour of office space and most importantly significantly raised allowable densities.”
The result was a major increase in supply.
“As industrial land prices continue to increase through diminishing supply and rising demand, at some point, we will have to move to multi-storey industrial buildings to offset the high land costs,” said Goldberg.
“Fortunately, most industrial zones already permit higher density so this transition should be far easier and smoother than has been the case for residential densification,” Goldberg said.
Space for industrial activities can be significantly increased through densification while leaving farmland for its highest and best use.
A quick look at what’s for lease and for sale in a small industrial area in Richmond.
Harvard JOUR E-153 Profile Writing
Instructor: Karen Weintraub
Final Project by Teresa Murphy
Saving the neighbourhood.Ray Galawan stops dumping on farmland by Teresa Murphy
On a quiet December morning in 2012, Ray Galawan was in his workshop fixing his tractor when he heard large vehicles gearing down in the distance.
He walked out to the road, his steps slowed by heavy boots.
“Semi-trailers towing what looked like construction waste rumbled by,” said Galawan. “I’d heard there’d been illegal dumping in the community and the government wasn’t stopping it. I decided this wouldn’t happen in my neighbourhood.”
Galawan, a fourth generation farmer, knows this land, where he farms vegetables and berry crops, better than anyone. His father and grandfather farmed it. His great-grandfather, also a farmer, helped incorporate the City of Richmond and served as a councillor and mayor.
“By age 10, I knew how to cultivate land and plant crops,” said Galawan. By age 14 his reputation for hard work meant he could choose from competing farm offers.
On this December day, Galawan saw the 18-wheelers turning into a 35-acre farm that had recently been sold to offshore buyers in China and leased to new tenants.
From the road he watched as trucks dumped bathtub-sized chunks of cement, asphalt and rebar onto a field that had grown vegetables, berries, oats and hay for a century.
Galawan phoned the ALC, but no-one would take his call. He phoned neighbours and encouraged them to phone the ALC.
Local residents include full-time farmers, hobby farmers, prosperous professionals who’ve built mansions and lease out their fields to farmers, and fishermen and artists up the road at the Finn Slough.
“This is one of the last farm areas close to Vancouver. We’re fortunate to live here and we don’t want it ruined,” said economist Helmut Pastrick, whose small hobby farm is nearby.
“When no-one from the provincial government bothered to phone us back, we became activists,” Pastrick said.
Galawan had planned to spend his golden years farming and enjoying his grandchildren. Instead he found himself at the helm of a growing movement. They called themselves FarmWatchBC.
Galawan took action with Bob Featherstone, another long-time farmer. Using tractors, they blocked dump-trucks from entering the farm’s driveway. Neighbours posted signs “Save our farmland” and “Food not fill.”
This caught the attention of sympathetic Richmond politicians like Harold Steves, a local farmer, an agrologist, and a Richmond City councillor for 43 years, who helped establish the ALR as an elected member of the provincial government.
“I saw highly toxic materials were being dumped, poisoning the land,” said Steves who committed to working with the province on solutions.
Why would a property owner let tenants contaminate farmland?
“Money,” said Pastrick. “Construction waste makes the land un-farmable. The property owner could then apply to the province to have the land removed from the ALR. If they succeed, and some do, they develop the property into a residential subdivision or an industrial park, making tens of millions of dollars.”
The dumping continued so Galawan built an information booth on City property in front of the farm. With neighbourhood volunteers he staffed it 24 hours a day.
Soon, the friendly and approachable Galawan, was in the news. His thoughtful, often entertaining descriptions of not getting anywhere with government made him a popular local hero.
“I wasn’t backing back down,” said Galawan, who had overcome cancer three years earlier, a far greater challenge.
Then came a setback.
On a bitterly cold January day, an ALC enforcement officer pulled up to the farm in a government truck.
“He rolled down his window. When we asked him to put a stop work order on the property, he told us the fill was allowed,” said Galawan.
The project had been approved under the legislation which permits construction waste to be used to build a farm road.
The tenants had also been approved to bring in gravel fill – 48,000 cubic metres of it or about 6,000 dump-truck loads – to cover the property to improve drainage.
Farm roads in the South Slough area
“We weren’t buying it. This wasn’t like any farm road we’d seen. We build them out of limestone and dirt which doesn’t harm the soil,” said Galawan. “This farm had never had drainage problems.”
Galawan’s next move was to lead a cortege of tractors, trucks, cars and bicycles to Richmond City Hall.
Holding up a chunk of asphalt, Galawan asked Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, “Will this grow food?”
Richmond council took action, moving to amend the Soil bylaw. Anyone bringing fill onto ALR land would require City approval and a permit at a cost of $600. Richmond Council also brought in a soil watch program and posted signs with a phone number to report illegal dumping.
This was Galawan’s first victory.
“We heard rumours the tenants were being paid $200 for each load of construction waste they allowed to be dumped,” said Pastrick.
Since contractors charge as much as $650 a truckload to haul construction waste to authorized government landfill sites, the rumour seemed credible.
Galawan and Featherstone’s next move was to drive their tractors to the provincial Premier’s office in an upscale Vancouver neighbourhood. Volunteers carried large photos of the toxic materials being dumped.
As spring stretched into summer and autumn, the dumping continued off and on. After a long day working in the fields, Galawan slept on a cot in the information booth.
“I was worried the farm’s tenants might dismantle our booth,” Galawan said.
The tenants hired a menacing caretaker with a pit bull. Galawan began keeping a baseball bat handy in his truck. No one doubted he was tough enough to use it.
In October, 2013 the BC Government pledged $4 million for the ALC to provide better oversight of agricultural lands, another victory for Galawan.
Soon after, the noise and the dust stopped at the farm. A realtor told neighbours the farm had sold, again. The tenants had left.
Galawan dismantled the information booth but kept his eyes open.
In July 2015, Metro Vancouver, established a pilot project to protect farmland from illegal dumping. This was a third victory for Galawan.
Then, in November 2015, trucks drove past Galawan’s place and turned into a newly leased 24-acre farm, illegally dumping construction waste.
Galawan phoned the City bylaws department and the provincial ALC. Both inspected the site and issued a stop work order.
“This was a win,” said Galawan.
Days later a special weapons and tactics team arrived on the farm, arresting tenants.
“What Ray did was bring to our attention the need to watch farms. When we see dumping, we shouldn’t assume it’s legal, said Kareno Hawbolt of Sweetdigz Farms.
“We all need to watch farms and phone the local bylaws department and the ALC to verify what’s going on.”
Heeding this advice, Galawan has been watching two fill sites nearby and has phoned and talked to the Richmond bylaws department.
Hunters are members of the local Rod and Gun Club. The Club wrote to the City about the problems hunters had getting permission from owners given that “many land owners in Richmond live overseas.” (See 4(ii))
Neighbours quickly passed around this information, and wrote letters about how easy it is to use Land Titles information to confirm that property owners are local.
“We’re here, not overseas,” became the rallying call.
Property owners wrote to the city about their property rights being violated by hunters.
“This is a property rights issue and owners of farmland should have the right to determine who is on their property,” said Helmut Pastrick, a hobby farmer, “If someone gets hurt of worse, we’re the ones who will be sued.”
Neighbours emailed Council members asking them to come and talk to local owners before making any decisions.
Councillor Derek Dang who grew up on farmland agreed with local residents and became an advocate.
At its June 2014 meeting, the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Committee released its findings, noting “the overall principles and actions of the Firearms Regulation Bylaw 4183 are sound and should be maintained in their present form.”
Sounds of gunfire ceased, until last Sunday, when a recreational hunter was back.
Now we’re on the lookout and will be phoning City Bylaws and the RCMP to enforce the bylaw and charge the hunters under the section 39 of the Wildlife Act.
Some farmers in the South Slough area are slowing down at this time year.
The Chong’s closed their farm stand on Steveston Highway last weekend.
Hoegler’s Richmond Country Farms is open selling limited produce local produce including local Brussels’ sprouts, apples, carrots and potatoes. They’ll close December 23.
H & M Farms at the corner of Steveston Highway and Gilbert Road opened their Christmas tree stand, celebrating 40 years of growing and selling Christmas trees. They also have ready-made wreaths from cedar boughs.
This afternoon it was quiet at their stand, with just two customers.
Art Knapp’s stand of Christmas tree sales was also quiet.
To attract customers away from the convenience of supermarket Christmas tree sales, the farmers go all out to make tree sales a holiday memory for families. Some tree stands on farms have beautiful heritage lights, statues of father Christmas, cocoa and soft carols playing.
During the next three weeks I hope Vancouver residents heading to Steveston for a riverside lunch or commuters heading home to nearby subdivisions stop and buy farm trees. Farming is such for a weekend hard work and farmers depend on local.