Vantreight Farms’ Non-Daffodil Developments

In the late winter of 2006 I worked as a picker at Vantreight farms, which if I remember correctly is the second largest daffodil farm in the world. At the time there was much controversy and knowing unspokeness around the farm fields because Geoffrey Vantreight Jr., the grandson of the founder, had just passed away and his sons were feuding over what to do with the property. With real estate value what it is in the Victoria region (and the Saanich peninsula being drop dead gorgeous in certain lights and from certain angles, which I had plenty of opportunity to experience bouncing out in the farm bus as the sun came up), the land the flowers are grown on is arguably worth far far more than the flowers will ever sell for. On the other hand, the land is in the Agricultural Land Reserve, which is a sort of functional greenbelt and which requires a lot of baksheesh to the Victoria City Council before you can develop in it. As I was slogging up the muddy rows of maturing daffodil stems with my pairing knife, the entire matter had landed in some sort of court or binding arbitration, and the future pre-summer livelihood of Quebecois hippies, Punjabi-Canadians, migrant Mexican labourers and the occasional aimless BSc. was hanging in the balance.

According to a slick new addition to the website, it appears the matter has been resolved. A fancy flash interface will show you a series of map overlays which propose a

“mixed-use housing development on land that is not farmable or in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) featuring 31 single-family homes, 92 townhomes, and 141 condominium units. Net revenue generated from the proposed development of this land will be invested back into Vantreight Farms, which grows approximately 18 million daffodils per year, generating 1,500 to 2,000 jobs annually. This development is essential for Vantreight Farms to modernize and expand its operations and also to assist us in becoming economically, environmentally and socially sustainable for generations to come.”

Interesting. Judging from the amount of money they’ve spent on GIS and web development, I’d say there must be some ongoing controversy they’re trying to allay.

update: Shortly after posting this I got a call from Ryan Vantreight, grandson of Geoff Jr., who was concerned about some of what I said in this post. He offered some extra information, which I’m happy to present here (I hope this is an accurate summary of Ryan’s main points)

  • Geoff Vantreight Jr. passed away in 2000, not 2005.
  • There was indeed a court-adjudicated dispute between the Vantreight brothers, Ian and Michael. My rough understanding is that each of them owned a part of the land, and for the farm to be viable all the land would be needed (that’s my recollection, not what Ryan told me, it may not be exactly right). Ian wanted to buy out Michael’s half, and Michael wanted to sell outside the family.
  • Michael won the case, granting him the right to sell to anyone and especially not to Ian. Ryan, who is Ian’s son, worked to convince the two brothers to reach an agreement regardless of the court decision, and Michael subsequently agreed to sell to Ian.
  • The sale was made, with the intention of keeping the entire property as farm. The cost of the buy-out meant a lot of debt, which currently hangs over the farm’s head.
  • Vantreight Farms, like most in Canada, is suffering from decreasing margins and increasing costs.
  • The consequence of all this is that the Vantreight Hill development proposed on the website is an effort from the pro-farming side of the family to raise money to cover the debt and modernize the farm to make it more financially viable.
  • (I’m not too worried that modernization would mean the end of seasonal picking on the farm. I’ve watched Star-Wars-esque machines, under the control of a couple of guys, harvest an acre of California cotton in 15 minutes which would have taken dozens of pickers a day back in the day. But I have a hard time imagining how any similar machine could harvest daffodils of just the right stem length without enormous wasteage, too much to be affordable. I think.)

  • Ryan particularly emphasized that the development is (as I quoted in the original post), not in the ALR or farmable land. Having looked up to it from the trenches many cold and hot days in the fields, I can verify that it doesn’t look like anything you can farm on.
  • He also suggested that part of the farm modernization would include extra crop rotation and other environmental improvements. Further details regarding those improvements are expected to be on the website in the near future assuming the project proceeds.
  • Monday is the day that the whole issue goes to council for a green or red light. I asked if their were other options if it was turned down and Ryan said that this is the first in a series of make-or-break challenges to the development. The results will be posted on the website
  • I’m in no position to verify or dispute any of this of course, but Ryan certainly sounded like a reasonable guy. I carry a deep and I think justified suspicion of residential development around Victoria (think Bear Mountain and shudder), and a condo development for a condo development’s sake isn’t much to celebrate. But I like the daffodil farm and remain grateful for the paid work I did there. Nor can I rule out doing some more of it. Vantreight farms is a couple of rare things — a large yet family owned enterprise, and a (so far) functioning farm. If Vantreight Hills is what’s required to keep the farm afloat, then it can at least be said that there are less justified condominium development proposals in the world.


    “Daffodils” (Wordsworth 1804)

    I WANDER’D lonely as a cloud
    That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
    When all at once I saw a crowd,
    A host, of golden daffodils;

    That is writen on my Grandfather’s grave stone. It was his favorite poem.

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