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 daffodil.com 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)
(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.)
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.