It was a chance for the old-timers to get together, reminisce and talk about the changing face of farming in Delta.
Organized by the Delta Farmers' Institute, current as well as farmers of an older vintage gathered for a third annual luncheon at East Delta Hall last Thursday afternoon. It was a chance for the almost 100 or so to swap stories and catch up with friends, many of whom are children or even later descendants of those in the historic photos that were on display.
"I think this event is wonderful, and they're not all farmers. The farming community is more than farmers," says Mike Guichon, a third generation farmer.
Retired veterinarian Dr. Gordon Davis, who began his practice in 1946, says Delta's farming scene has undergone big changes. For example, there were around 100 farms at one point that had dairy cows, but now that number has dwindled to around eight, he says.
Davis says the expropriation of thousands of acres by the provincial government back in the late 1960s was the biggest signal things would change.
Agriculture came to the delta in 1868 when two brothers, Thomas and William Ladner, began to cultivate land at what is now part of Ladner town centre.
The Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust, which has been working for years with the DFI on habitat programs, points out that that by the late 1980s, two-thirds of the farmland in Delta was farmed under lease, less than 10 per cent of the land was under forage production and local processing facilities were on the decline, as was soil productivity.
Farmers have been adapting their operations at every point in history to remain viable. The general composition of farming operations continues to change as more land is being converted to "newer" crop types such as greenhouse-grown produce, cranberries and blueberries.
Farming in Delta has also faced a myriad of other challenges over the decades, including highway construction as well as port and other development pressures.
The Agricultural Land Reserve covers much of Delta's current farm base, however, pressures continue, including farmland being eyed by industrial interests looking to service future port growth.
"I shudder to think what's in the future," says Gordon Huff, 90.
A Ladner resident who quit farming in 1962, Huff says he meets regularly with current and retired farmers for a social gathering at the Boundary Bay Airport's coffee shop.
"The ex-farmers and a lot of the others who are there, they all just shake their heads, and I guess I do too. It's happening, a lot of it has already happened and it's still going to happen."
Ex-farmer Gary Bowing agreed, saying there's a huge demand for land.
Coupled with highway development, it spells bad news for Delta's agricultural land, Bowing says.
Stan Burr, who still owns an 82-acre farm that grows potatoes and other vegetables, although he now rents his portion to other family members, says he doesn't think much of the new South Fraser Perimeter Road.
As far as his view of the future of the family farm in Delta, Burr says, "I can't say there's too big a future, the way farming is changing so much now."
Burr says he didn't think much of the ALR when it was introduced in the early 1970s, but now there's no doubting it's needed.
He adds MLA Vicki Huntington has done a good job advocating for farmland preservation.
Ken Davie, whose two sons are still running their family dairy farm, says farmers "are getting squeezed more and more."
Longtime Westham Island farmer Gord Ellis, 72, whose family started farming in the area in 1916, says his farm still going strong, growing such crops as potatoes and pumpkins. His daughter Sharon runs the roadside stand at Westham Island Herb Farm. Ellis, who's on the DFI's diking and drainage committee, says Westham Island needs a major dike upgrade, so a long-term plan should be formulated for such an undertaking.
Some of the retired farmers on hand included Lloyd Tamboline, whose family began farming in the early 1900s and still farms on Westham Island.
Tamboline, who brought a collection of old photographs to display, says he's seen many changes in the farming scene.
Ian Paton, a farmer who now serves on Delta council, says his dad and the Roddicks started a similar get together a number of years ago, and he's glad it's been revived. He says a lot of the old-timers have passed on, but he's glad so many are still around.
Paton wonders how many farmers from younger generations will be around for such gatherings in a few years.
Several at the event noted they missed the late Delta Optimist writer Edgar Dunning, who provided interesting stories at a their luncheon a couple of years ago.