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Arts and culture group aims to bring affordable family farming to the Coast

Cover the Coast project launched to unite affordable housing stakeholders
The Cover the Coast team. From left: Nicole Davies, Silas White, Aaron Fitzpatrick, Kelly Foley, Chloe Langmaid, and Sandy McBride.

There are fewer young farmers entering the agriculture industry in B.C. because of skyrocketing land prices but an arts group on the Sunshine Coast has a plan for that.

Deer Crossing the Art Farm, a non-profit arts and culture society, has received funding from the province for what it calls the Smart Farm Affordable Housing Initiative – and for a project to unite affordable housing stakeholders on the Sunshine Coast. 

The society has been developing the affordable farming idea “inch by inch” for more than six years, co-founder Chad Hershler told Coast Reporter.

He and his wife and society co-founder, Sandy Buck, have developed three models for affordable farming – a housing and farming cooperative, a bare land strata and a community strata model. Each is designed to make farming affordable by increasing density on small acreages outside Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). At least one home in each of the models would be leased at an affordable rate or purchased by farmers.

Funding is coming from the B.C. government’s Job Creation Partnership program, and is also being used to hire two staff to work on a complementary initiative they’re calling Cover the Coast, to gather information about affordable housing.

Project manager Kelly Foley, also general manager with Deer Crossing the Art Farm, said they launched Cover the Coast – which was announced last week – to address what she described as a need to bring information together about the “supply side” of affordable housing.

“There’s not a lot of understanding … in terms of what organizations are doing what,” she said. “Some of them we’re learning are facing very similar challenges and they’re not necessarily connecting with each other to learn together and work together and develop collective impact.”

The society is partnering with the Sunshine Coast Affordable Housing Society and hopes to work with developers and non-governmental organizations to create a “local alliance of key stakeholders involved in housing,” said a Feb. 5 release announcing the funding.          

Members of the Cover the Coast project will be at Sunnycrest Mall in Gibsons this weekend with a survey for homeowners about affordable housing.

As for the Smart Farm initiative, currently the society is working on the legal mechanism for a housing cooperative model Hershler and Buck hope to pilot at 1747 Storvold Rd., an acreage where the society operates outside of Gibsons.

They have hired two staff to prepare the site to allow the society to continue its regular work of organizing arts and culture events as construction gets underway, hopefully by 2022.

The project would see density doubled at the site – with two additional homes added, including one for a farming family.

If the pilot succeeds, Hershler said it could pave the way for other groups to apply the model on other properties on the Sunshine Coast that aren’t part of the ALR.

“In southern B.C., unless you inherit or come from money, it’s virtually impossible for a family to start a farm. This is looking at ways to bring that family farm concept back,” Hershler said.

In the release, Nicholas Simons, Minister for Social Development and Poverty Reduction, described the project as “a good example of a community working together to offer solutions that address the shortage of workforce-affordable housing on the Sunshine Coast.”