Eoin Carey wanted to be a farmer but had no land. John and Anne Whittall have land but want to retire.

With the new B.C. Land Matching Program, they were paired up, and now Carey is growing vegetables, hops and apples at the Whittalls’ West Kelowna property.

“I wouldn’t be here today without land matching,” said Carey.

“I’d been looking for suitable land for years but couldn’t find anything. And then I heard of the Young Agrarians and the land-matching program, and all of a sudden I’m introduced to a pool of landowners and getting support from business-planning experts and other farmers.”

Carey and the Whittalls, along with B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham and land matcher Tessa Wetherill, met Friday at the Whittalls’ 3.6-hectare Alpine Roots Farm on Shetler Drive to expound the merits of the program.

“The B.C. Land Matching Program has been likened to speed dating for landowners and young farmers,” said Popham.

“The goal is to increase British Columbia’s food supply, protect farmland and ensure prosperity for farmers. It’s all about innovative solutions.”

Popham knows the high cost of farmland keeps many young people who’d like to be farmers from getting into the business.

In addition, some of the best soils in the province are in the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, Fraser Valley and Okanagan, which are all desirable places to live, work and play, so real estate is expensive.

The program was funded with $500,000 in provincial money last October and received $375,000 more this week to bolster efforts.

In 2016, the province launched the B.C. Land Matching Program pilot in the Lower Mainland. It connected 19 new farmers with property owners and put 27 hectares of land into production.

In 2018, the program partnered with Young Agrarians, a group that supports new and young farmers, to provide land matchers. So far, there have been of 29 matches involving more than 40 hectares of farmland.

Okanagan land matcher Wetherill helped pair Carey with the Whittalls, negotiate the land lease and set Carey up with business planning expertise.

The Whittalls used to breed Dutch Friesien and miniature horses on the land, but they now want to retire.

“We wanted to see the land kept in production,” said John Whittall. “And we wanted to keep farm status to continue to get a break on our (property) taxes. That’s what led us to the B.C. Land Matching Program.”

His wife added that the lease payments Carey will make will help them to continue to live in the house on the farm and retire.

“Plus, we’ll be able to sample all the goodies,” said Anne Whittall.

Carey has signed a one-year trial lease for one hectare of the Whittalls’ land with an option to renew for a further three years.

He’s already planted lettuce, turnip, squash, cabbage, carrots, broccoli, onion, potatoes, tomato, pepper and radish.

“I’ve already developed relationships with chefs and will be selling most of the produce directly to restaurants,” said Carey.

Carey will also attend the Every Farmer Needs a Chef and Every Chef Needs a Farmer conference in Vancouver this fall.

Carey will also grow some hops to sell to local breweries.

And he wants to grow some heritage apples, an interest he’s developed from working at Summerland Varieties, the company that protects and markets many apple and cherry varieties.