Residents still have an opportunity to contribute to the development of an agricultural area plan (AAP) for the Sunshine Coast, said consultant Andrea Lawseth.
An open house was held Aug. 19 along with an invitational focus group meant to identify some of the key issues affecting agriculture in the region. Two additional open houses are expected in October.
“We had a strong turnout and managed to have a very productive three hour discussion,” said Lawseth, the owner of AEL Agroecological Consulting. “We will be hosting another focus group session in October to delve a bit further into these issues and discuss some preliminary recommendations for the plan.”
The Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) has been working alongside the Town of Gibsons and District of Sechelt to develop the AAP.
An AAP was identified in the SCRD’s sustainability plan as being vital to achieving local food security.
At stage one, the aim is to create an inventory of land use while also drafting a vision for the plan.
“We posted aerial photos and maps on the walls where the community could provide some input regarding the locations of major farms and farm operations,” Lawseth said.
The main goals of the AAP include increasing the availability of locally grown and produced food, establishing agriculture as an economic driver on the Coast, preserving the rural character of the region through policy, and protecting the community against rising food prices.
A final stage one report is expected in December, but a stakeholder outreach process and assessment of market opportunities is expected to be carried out in the fall, before open houses present the initial results to the public in October.
Slated for next year, stage two will involve the development of plan and policy before the final stage, implementation.
Agriculture on the Sunshine Coast has been limited by access to outside markets, but by encouraging the growth of local markets, officials hope there may be room for expansion.
A survey regarding concerns for both producers and consumers has also been making the rounds and Lawseth said residents will have access to it online.
“We will be hosting two more open houses in separate communities in October, so everyone will have another opportunity to provide input into the background report and help identify key issues,” she said. “These open houses will be more interactive with small group discussions and presentations.”
For more information, visit the SCRD’s agriculture section at www.scrd.ca/agriculture. Dates and times for the open houses will be announced through local media once decided.