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Hobby farming in the Lower Fraser Valley Hayward, Patricia Margaret


Concern is growing over the use, ownership and preservation of agricultural land in Canada. The hobby farm is a distinctive type of farm land use in the rural-urban fringe of large cities. Opinion varies on the validity of hobby farming as land use and as part of the agricultural industry, yet little documentation exists on its actual form and function. This study attempts to assess the validity of hobby farming in the Lower Fraser Valley near Vancouver, an important agricultural region in which a significant proportion of the farm units are hobby farms. It is hypothesized that the hobby farm has a characteristic form and that hobby farmers have similar motivations for choosing a rural lifestyle. They are likely to make similar choices and decisions in the purchase and management of their property. Only when these are identified can the relationships of hobby farming to commercial farming and its role within the agricultural industry be assessed. The findings and conclusions of this study were drawn from primary data provided by interviews of eighty-two hobby farmers in the district of Surrey in the Lower Fraser Valley. They were randomly selected from property tax assessment rolls and interviewed between February and May 1982. A variety of circumstances led to the development of hobby farming in the Valley where the small, mixed subsistence farms of the 1860s survived the expansion and commercialization of the farm industry over the next hundred years. Although the moderate climate of the Valley facilitates production, many potentially serious problems such as poor drainage necessitate a high level of capital improvements and skillful use of special techniques to make: agriculture commercially viable. The recent trend to intensification and specialization along with rising costs and uncertain returns has led to the demise of poorly managed, small-sized commercial farms on land of marginal quality. The Agricultural Land Reserve system in B. C. prohibits the sale of agricultural land for any use except farming so the many small uneconomic farm units are purchased as hobby farms. Hobby farming is an appropriate form of agricultural enterprise in the Valley. Surrey hobby farms, small in size and mixed in production, are generally well maintained, although improvements are made in an irregular fashion as time and money become available. Hobby farm land is seldom idle but produces a wide variety of goods, many alternative varieties and breeds to those of Surrey's commercial farms. Farm sales are minimal, sufficient to achieve property tax exemption and provide some funds for farm expenses. Marketing arrangements are flexible and informal. Surrey hobby farmers are a heterogeneous group in socioeconomic terms and political orientations, although there is an occupational predominance of administrators and professionals. Most have urban backgrounds but have rejected city life and chosen hobby farming to achieve the qualities of rural lifestyle they desire—particularly the privacy of a peaceful setting where they are free to raise their children and manage their farm animals and crops without interference. Self-sufficiency is an important goal for some. Both the planning and management of the farm is undertaken with little outside help, and experimentation with products and techniques reflects the hobby orientation of the owners. The rural-urban fringe location is perceived positively and satisfaction levels are high. Hobby farming coexists comfortably with full-time commercial farming, providing little competition in the market place yet some opportunities for wage labour and leasing arrangements. Hobby farms provide some of the unusual products and amenity services sought by urban dwellers and preserve a countryside landscape that is aesthetically pleasing. The Fraser Valley hobby farms have a valuable role to play in the use and preservation of agricultural land and the farm industry.

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