Public engagement on policy changes proposed to the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). (Ruth Lloyd photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Public engagement on policy changes proposed to the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). (Ruth Lloyd photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

University of Northern B.C. undergrad talks ALR policy with public

Visiting farmers’ markets to engage with farmers, ranchers, public on policy

An undergraduate student at the University of Northern B.C. is talking to rural residents about Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) policy reform.

Thanks to funds from the Planning Institute of B.C., Matt Henderson wrote a project proposal to engage with residents in northern rural B.C. communities about possible updates to the policy.

With the goal of better supporting farmers and ranchers, Henderson is speaking directly to farmers and ranchers via public engagements, including attending area farmers’ markets and events.

On July 21, he hosted a dotmocracy at the Williams Lake Farmers’ Market, offering people an opportunity to place three dots next to any of six potential policy change ideas for the ALR to show support for those ideas.

He wanted people to provide input because he wants to hear from people involved in agriculture, stating quite clearly he does not pretend to be an expert in agriculture himself.

The six ideas were: Allow non-farming business to support farmers’ supplementary incomes; complementary zoning for non-farming purposes that benefit farmers; go back to the two-zone system (urban versus rural farming areas); increase legacy protections for generational farmers; flexible application process with Agricultural Land Commission; or leaving everything as it is.

But he is not just going to farmers’ markets and public events, he is also providing an online platform for people to have their say digitally as well.

His hope is this will be a step towards meaningful change and he said the people he’s engaged with are also excited at the prospect of meaningful change in regards to the ALR.

One of the new factors with consultation on the ALR now is engagement with First Nations communities in consideration of reconciliation.

The project’s potential benefits are meant to include creating an analysis of current policies on construction of residential dwellings and other buildings on ALR properties, compiling community knowledge on local context of policies and their impacts on multi-generational farmers, and creating a report compiling the information he collects and providing it to his community partners to help better serve local producers.

Henderson said he is very grateful for the opportunity to work on this project and the platform it is allowing him to have in helping support agriculture and producers. He wants also to set an example for other students and researchers by engaging directly with community members and said he has a very welcome reception from people he’s met.

His community partners includes Sage Gordon, president of the Quesnel Cattleman’s Association; Coralee Oakes, MLA of Cariboo North; Christa Pooley, chair of the Cariboo Regional District’s (CRD) Agricultural Development Advisory Committee; Jackie Sarginson, president of Cariboo North Riding Association; Mary Sjostrom, CRD director of electoral area A; Nigel Whitehead, CRD manager of planning services; and Rick Wittner, president of Cariboo Mining Association.

Additionally, he plans to return to communities once the report is complete in order to share what he found with the public.

“It’s just as much the community’s project as it is mine,” he said.

The Land Commission Act was passed 50 years ago in British Columbia to protect agricultural land from development. Before the Act was passed, approximately 6,000 hectares of land a year was being lost to development, according to a UNBC website story.

To visit his project website, vote on the dotmocracy or find out more go to

READ MORE: MLA COLUMN: Agriculture Land Reserve rules relaxed

READ MORE: Province revises ALR regulations to make room for vertical farming

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