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Sandown returns to its roots, yielding crop of young farmers

The program is a business incubator for young agrarians interested in farming or launching a farm-based business in an area where land is expensive and in short supply.
Emily Harris, right, program manager for the Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture, and farmer Shannon Wiggins with lettuce sprouts. Harris says lettuce is one of the more profitable crops grown at the centre, since it’s fast to grow and always in demand. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Ehssan Kamalmaz is selling his locally grown garlic to grocery stores and restaurants, while Shannon Wiggins is well-known for her fresh vegetables at the Esquimalt and North Saanich farmer markets.

The two are some of the 13 farmers currently enrolled in the Regenerative Farmer program at the Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture, which launched in 2021.

The program is a business incubator for young agrarians interested in farming or launching a farm-based business in a low-risk environment in an area where land is expensive and in short supply.

“We’re growing young farmers,” said Emily Harris, program manager at the non-profit organization, who notes the majority of participants are young women.

“We give them all the basics necessary to succeed. We give them access to land, courses, tools and the mentorship. They can try it out for three years to see if it works for them.”

The incubator program charges participants $350 a year to use a half-acre plot of land, and for additional fees they have access to shared farm equipment such as tractors, greenhouse space, irrigation infrastructure and coolers to store the harvest.

All a participant has to pay for is their seeds, fertilizer and the water they use.

Participants sign three-year renewable leases, with the goal that they’ll be established enough in three years to strike out on their own, sometimes after being matched with a local farmer who can supply leased land.

Veronique Emmett started out at Sandown in 2021 with a quarter of an acre plot, as part of the first cohort of young farmers. After finding success selling her produce, she moved on to a one-acre plot at Haliburton Farm and can be found selling as Frozen Coast at the Moss Street Market.

The centre has added the Growing Young Farmers program in its roster of programs this year, in partnership with the Growing Young Farmers’ Society.

The program, funded in part by a grant from the Victoria Foundation, gives children from Kindergarten to Grade 12 an opportunity to spend time on a working farm and learn from a farmer. The field trip activities are tied to the B.C. school curriculum.

“Children who participate in growing food become more aware of what they consume, where it comes from, and how it impacts the environment,” said Harris.

Both programs are run from the former Sandown Racetrack in North Saanich, which started out being farmed for grain and vegetables from the mid-1800s until the 1950s.

The fields were later turned into a horse race track, which operated between 1955 and 2001.

The 83-acre parcel of ALR land is now owned by the District of North Saanich, with 25 acres set aside as seasonal wetland, serving as a flood plain for the municipality during extreme weather events.

As they work to return the soil to its agricultural roots, volunteers routinely come across the occasional horseshoe.

The Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture is hosting a open house, with plant starts available, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 18 at the centre, 1810 Glamorgan Rd., North Saanich. For more information, go to

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