A Delta beet farmer seed swathing on his farm in the 1950s.                                Photograph courtesy of the Delta Archives Photograph #2012-005-001

A Delta beet farmer seed swathing on his farm in the 1950s. Photograph courtesy of the Delta Archives Photograph #2012-005-001

Canada 150: Delta Farmers Institute changing with the times

Delta Farmers Institute focuses on advocacy for farms facing land loss

Out of 100 B.C.-grown tomatoes, 91 are from Delta. When you want to find an acre of potatoes, there’s a 53 per cent chance you’ll be looking in Delta.

Farmers are an integral part of Delta’s communities – and B.C.’s agricultural landscape – and the Delta Farmers Institute has been advocating for them for more than 100 years.

The Delta Farmers Institute was created in 1898, and since the beginning it has largely been an educational resource. That legacy continues, although the Institute is stepping into the 21st century with a website and Facebook page. But now, the Institute also has a second purpose: advocacy.

Currently, the Institute has around 100 members, representing 60 farming families in Delta.

Leisa Yee is the Delta Farmers Institute’s only paid staff member oand works part time as an administrator. She said urban encroachment on the agricultural land reserve is one of the biggest issues facing Delta’s famers.

“We’re just finding with all the changes, particularly with Delta, on the pressures of farmland for non-farm development… It’s a tough one,” she said.

“Farmland has been affected with non-farmland use for years.”

Delta farmers have lost land to port expansion in the past – some have had their land expropriated two or three times – and, more recently, to the constuction of the South Fraser Perimetre Road (Highway 17).

Over nine years, the Delta Farmers Institute negotiated with the provincial and municipal governments to mitigate the damage from the highway.

In exchange for the land lost, the Institute managed to bring forward an enhancement to the irrigation system that brings water from the river to the farms.

It was one of the Institute’s biggest successes, Yee said, but there’s still more to go.

“Delta has a rich history; we have fifth, sixth generation farmers here,” Yee said. “They know the land, they’re stewards of the land here. They want to farm here.”

“But,” she added, “with the pressures of development here … you really have to have an understanding of what the loss of farmland means.”