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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Small farm function : a study of small farms in Matsqui Municipality in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia Swinnerton, Guy Stretton

Abstract

This thesis documents and analyses some of the major characteristics of the present socio-economic situation of small farms in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. To obtain a realistic appreciation of the small farm problem consideration is given to the fact that the major function of small farms is not always agricultural production. The major term of reference for the study was that the characteristics of small farms are the result of the functions the holding serves for the farm operator and his family. Small farms were identified as holdings of less than twenty-one acres and the heterogeneous functions of farm occupancy were synthesised into three levels of farm operation on the basis of working time spent on the holding, relative income obtained from farm and non-farm sources and the value of the sale of agricultural products. Three types of small farm operators were recognised: full-time, part-time and residential. The Lower Mainland was selected because it is one of the most important agricultural areas in British Columbia and the region contains a high percentage of the total number of small farms in the province. In addition, the positive relationship between urbanisation, small farms and the part-time and residential farmer was likely to be clearly represented because the area is subject to the metropolitan dominance of Vancouver. Within the Lower Mainland, Matsqui Municipality was singled out for specialized study since it is reasonably representative of the Lower Mainland's agriculture and is within commuting distance of Metropolitan Vancouver. The Real Property Appraisal Records for Matsqui Municipality were used as the sample frame and a random sample of forty farm operators completed the interview schedule. The evidence indicated that many of the small farms under study were not viable economic units, and some of their occupiers may be classed as low income families. However, the low financial returns reported by many of the small farm operators implied that their reasons for living on farms were not necessarily founded on economic considerations. Social rather than economic factors explained the respondents' higher level of satisfaction with rural than city living, whereas any dissatisfaction with living on farms was related to the lack of economic success. The three most frequently stated reasons for preferring rural living were availability of space, a better place to bring up children and a superior physical environment to that experienced in urban areas. The evidence also indicated that there was an inverse relationship between dependency on farming for a livelihood and the level of satisfaction with rural living. The three factors which were most important in accounting for the relative economic success or failure of small farms were managerial efficiency, the availability of working capital and the desire of the farmer to operate his holding as a commercially orientated business. Because the majority of full-time small farms do not adequately fulfil economic or human needs they will be phased out, whereas small farms used essentially as a place of residence or operated on a part-time basis will become increasingly common in the landscape of the Lower Mainland. This is because although they do not adequately meet the economic requirements of a modern agricultural system, they do provide their occupiers with sufficient independence to satisfy their social needs.

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