Three acres and a cow

Was the successful campaign slogan adopted by Joseph Chamberlain back in the 1880’s to describe his radical ideas concerning land reform, which came to fruition in the Small Holdings Act of 1892 and the Small Holdings and Allotments Acts of 1908 to 1925. These Acts created the County Council Farms which have been a mainstay of British agriculture ever since.

The institution of the County Council farm is something that we in BC might want to turn our minds to, given the pressure being exerted on our agricultural land and resources. The concept is that tracts of farmland are returned to public ownership (in the UK they are owned by the local council) and then rented out to aspiring farmers, typically young families with the desired energy to work the land but not the capital to buy a farm.

Across Great Britain over 3100 tenants lease farmland from local authorities, generating significant revenues for the municipalities, and providing an important first rung on the ladder for would-be farmers. The leases also act as a form of control. ensuring that best practices are followed in farm activities, and mandating things such as wildlife protection and public access to rural pathways.

Consider the challenges we face presently in British Columbia. The average age of our farmers is creeping up, and now hovers around 58 years, with precious few young farmers entering the ranks, for the simple fact that they can’t afford to purchase farmland. Some of the most valuable and productive farmland in the province lies fallow, or worse converted to luxury estates for the very rich, yet the need for food sufficiency has never been greater, and will likely get worse as global warming disrupts traditional patterns of agriculture.

The British system is far less than perfect, and has seen many upheavals in recent years, but it represents an innovative way of approaching the problem. it’s long since time for us to start thinking outside the box when considering our land use policies.