Tournament Capital Ranch calls for new farmers

Sustainable agriculture program on five hectares of land to start as early as 2016

The Tournament Capital Ranch, located just past Rayleigh, is normally host to slo-pitch baseball games and the home of the Kamloops Rugby Club. However, the city has grander plans for the ranch, which sees a large amount of its land go unused.

As early as the spring of 2016, the ranch could have a sustainable agriculture program intended for new farmers, said City Parks Planning and Sustainability supervisor Michael Doll. Community Futures of Thompson Country (a nonprofit, entrepreneurial assistance organization) has partnered with the city to develop five hectares of land on the ranch for a Farm Business Incubator Program.

“Community Futures is a nonprofit partner that will develop and manage the Farm Business Incubator Program in the long term. For now, it will just be a pilot project,” said Community Planning supervisor Maren Luciani.

Since December of 2013, when Kamloops adopted the first Agricultural Area Plan (AAP), the city has been taking steps towards creating a resilient and sustainable local agricultural sector.

The AAP identified that one of the top issues on the minds of many of the Thompson-Okanagan’s farmers was a need to educate and support those attempting to enter the industry.

Traditionally, high land prices in the region have proved an insurmountable barrier to many aspiring farmers and ranchers. The Farm Business Incubator Program (FBIP) addresses this problem by offering new farmers access to land, training and shared equipment. The hope is that, with time, the FBIP will give aspiring farmers the chance to develop important skills in sustainable farming while creating a business plan and forming relationships within the local farming community. Once they have developed the necessary skills and resources, they would move on and free up space for new farmers for the next season.

Luciani has said that that would be an ideal situation, “but other programs have found this difficult and have changed their models to let farmers stay on indefinitely.” Despite this, Farm Business Incubator Programs elsewhere have been quite successful, allowing farmers to receive the proper training and mentorship opportunities, and allowing them to sell and market their produce to their communities.

However, Luciani has also said that the project isn’t meant to give the tenants of the plots an unfair advantage over other farmers in the region, as there will be costs involved. These costs will mostly stem from the resource sharing and mentorship aspects of the program. Revenue earned will immediately go back into the program to keep it afloat.

“This will allow farmers to get a better sense of the costs involved in farming,” Luciani said. “It will still likely be a much more affordable starting point than going off on your own.”

So far, the Kamloops farming community has showed interest in the project, with 10 people signing on to become the first tenants. Many more experienced farmers and ranchers have volunteered to become mentors when the program starts. A few of whom have also offered to donate equipment and to help with the preparation of the land.

Other resources, such as water, will be worked out in individual contracts between Community Futures and the new farmers. The city is already prepared to provide topsoil for the location, which sits upon class 1 and 2 soils, which are very arable. The city will also be partnering on a fencing program for the area as well, although they have not stated who they’ll be partnering with.

Although TRU has yet to be contacted by the city and has thus far had no input on the project, Jim Gudjonson of TRU Environment and Sustainability believes the project is a good starting point for agricultural sustainability in Kamloops and beyond.

“It’s something we would like to look into in the future. We might even attempt a similar program of our own design,” Gudjonson said.