Getting to Know BC’s New Minister of Agriculture
Saanich Voice Online was fortunate enough to catch the attention of who just might be the busiest person in Saanich right now, Saanich South MLA and Minister of Agriculture, Lana Popham. We ran a few questions past her and this is what she said:
Was Minister of Ag your first choice and if so why? What is it about Agriculture?
Yes! Before getting into politics I was a farmer and I ran for office because I wanted government to do more to encourage and advance local agriculture and food security. This is my dream job and what I’ve been working towards for the past eight years as Ag Critic. I met with hundreds if not thousands of farmers, processors, food industry people across the sector.
I miss the soil! I promised the friends I farmed with that I would go into government to make agriculture better and then come back and farm with them again.
~Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture, MLA
To me agriculture is so important because it is fundamental to our physical health, relationship to animals and the environment.
Growing fruits and vegetables or raising animals for food is such a basic and essential part of what we need to do as a society and yet it is also so complex. To do it right requires us to make smart and good decisions on complex issues such as land use planning, agri-chemical use, farm labour standards, greenhouse gas emissions, nutrition, animal welfare, international markets …I love the challenge of bringing all that together.
What will be your top priority?
The BC NDP ran on a platform that included three key agricultural planks: Buy BC, Feed BC, Grow BC. Those remain our priorities and are in fact restated in the mandate letter that I got when I was appointed to be Minister of Agriculture.
For example, one of the priorities under Feed BC is to increase the use of BC food in our institutions such as hospitals. It may be hard to believe, but much of the food provided in our hospitals is not BC sourced, but processed and imported. We can do better than that – and I intend to push that change.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge in brining in positive change?
The agriculture, aquaculture and food sector faces constant pressures of all kinds. Farming is very hard and often very physically demanding work and cost of land and the return on investment make it a hard business to run. I believe one of the ways government can help farmers is to help consumers better appreciate the value of what BC farmers do – the economic, social and environmental benefits of buying fresh and local. The more we choose to buy BC, the stronger the local market becomes. Stronger markets will create more opportunities for business, creating innovation and efficiencies that can make local food affordable for more and more people. That is what the Buy BC program is all about.
Will there be changes to the current structure of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR)?
Yes, part of my mandate is to strengthen and modernize the ALR, making sure that the mandate of protecting farmland and encouraging farming is met. Without maximizing our use of food producing lands, we will not be able to be resilient in the face of climate change.
What policies and/or programs can Saanich and the Peninsula look forward to at the very local level?
In many ways. For example, the Feed BC program will positively impact institutions like the Saanich Peninsula Hospital.
I miss the soil! I promised the friends I farmed with that I would go into government to make agriculture better and then come
back and farm with them again. I think about that a lot and use it as a lens for the decisions I make.
Providing people with nourishing food is a very satisfying way to earn a livelihood. And I miss growing grapes and making wine too! But I could not be more excited to be the Minister of Agriculture because I know it is position where I will be able to help the farmers and producers across BC. I intend to deliver on our government’s commitment to advance a sustainable economy.