A 60-hectare farm in Sooke, described in real-estate listings as a Little House on the Prairie paradise, is on its way to becoming a farmers’ co-op and ecovillage — if a group of local residents can raise sufficient cash.
Owners of the property at 6600 Helgesen Rd., a short walk from Sooke’s town centre, have accepted an offer of $1.6-million. Ecovillage Farm Co-operative organizers now need to raise between $200,000 and $300,000 by April 10 to finalize the purchase.
“We’re not close to that yet, so we’re getting a little nervous,” said Susan Nelson, spokeswoman for the group, which has applied to become the Sooke Region Farmland Trust Society with the aim of protecting the land and water in perpetuity.
About $70,000 has been raised so far and efforts have moved into high gear, including the use of crowdfunding platform Indiegogo.
“We will be applying for grants and we have the ability to get a mortgage, but, since the farm will not be earning money immediately, and infrastructure like roads and buildings will need to be put in, a large mortgage would cripple us,” Nelson said. “If we don’t raise enough funds, we will be forced to back out.”
Once charitable status is granted, the group will be able to offer tax receipts but, in the meantime, it is possible an arrangement can be made with another group with charitable status, Nelson said.
The hope is that donations will come from people interested in sustainability and protecting farmland for local food production. So far, about 25 people want to participate on the land, either by farming or living in one of the units, Nelson said.
“They are people who are really concerned about food security on southern Vancouver Island and saving farmland.”
Of those, a dozen have been meeting regularly over the last year and at least five have farming experience, she said.
About eight hectares of the property, adjacent to Sun River Estates, is not in the Agricultural Land Reserve and is zoned for 10 homes. The aim is to build houses as a village, centred around a community house with a large dining room. Those living in the co-op homes would work on the farm, Nelson said.
The housing co-op would lease land from the trust, but it has not yet been decided whether the homes will be owned by individuals or the co-op. The mixed farm is likely to include pigs, cows, berries, vegetables, cheese-making and beekeeping.
“It will be as diverse as we can make it because that’s more sustainable,” Nelson said.
Other enterprises could include a farm-stand market, café, commercial kitchen and classes for children and adults.
Neighbours are supportive and, as an added bonus for Sun River residents, the farm group is looking at putting a trail across the property, which could save a vehicle trip for those travelling to Sooke, Nelson said.
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