Across Canada in a farmhouse: Victoria to Mile Zero

Among our many farm visits over the past week, our stop at Vantreight Farms was particularly interesting. This approximately-150-acre property (that’s a really big farm in these parts) produces a pretty vast array of goods, not least being daffodils.

In fact, this farm is the single largest producer of daffodils (some fourteen varieties) in Canada and second in North America! It ships across Canada and features a significant U-pick component to get these flowers marketed throughout the spring.

Otherwise, the Vantreights produce vegetables, primarily for wholesale to Victoria-area grocery retailers. They’re currently transitioning a major chunk of the farm into organic and are working out the kinks of a new flame weeder.

The Vantreight farm has provided us with interesting material on two fronts. First, pretty much immediately they started receiving complaints from nearby residents about smoke from the flame weeding process. It’s the usual kind of stuff: people don’t want their pastoral scene interrupted by "messy" agricultural practices — though they certainly want the veggies.

Second, the Vantreights are in a battle with local residents and planning-minded bureaucrats over a ridgeline of trees and rock. Ian and Ryan Vantreight want to develop (in the form of houses) this chunk of land, something they say must happen in order to keep their farming operations viable.

Although the land is not zoned agricultural, they are facing serious resistance and outright recalcitrance from all sorts of different directions. Basically, the sentiment against their plan is rooted in a fear of development and of loss of farmland. Fair enough. However, the land in question is not viable farmland (again, it’s trees and rock) and will never yield food. Moreover, as the Vantreights point out — something we’ve encountered across the country — sometimes a little development is the only way to ensure survival of farm operations such as theirs.

This battle is set to continue. We are going to follow the story as it’s a perfect test case for our changing urban-rural interface.

After some time at the Vantreights and a few other places in East Saanichton it was time, finally, to head for "Mile 0" and our ceremonial finish. Bryce Rashleigh of Saanichton Farm (about whom I’ll write more later) arranged a small convoy of farmers to lead us toward Beacon Hill Park in Victoria.

A good-sized complement of media awaited our arrival, as did a city parks worker who promptly informed us that we needed a permit to hold a press conference in the park. I pointed out that there weren’t even "no parking" signs on the site, let alone "no press conference" signs.

Soon after, the director of parks for Victoria sent a senior manager down to apologize and congratulate us. So we went ahead with our plans, and wound up with great coverage on CTV and Shaw TV and in the Victoria Times Colonist.

After popping some local bubbly, devouring a gorgeous cake from Lighthouse Cake Co. complete with our photo, and a few remarks to the media, we were surprised with a horse-drawn carriage, which whisked us away to Victoria’s famed Empress Hotel, where we enjoyed afternoon tea and a relaxing night — all compliments of our Island hosts!

— John Varty and his fiancee Molly Daley have been driving across Canada in an effort to speak to farmers about the issues that concern them, and to bring those concerns to urbanites. They’ve done it in an unusual fashion — towing a "farmhouse" behind a Massey Ferguson 1660 — and have posted periodic reports here of their trek across the West.

Related stories:
Across Canada in a farmhouse: Delta to Victoria, Sept. 18, 2012
Cross-Canada tractor pull, July 30, 2012

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