Compassion Farm Update: July 2013

After almost three years of standing our ground, with the majority of the community of Lantzville backing us, for the right to grow food (including for sale), we have decided to sell our home and two and half acres and leave Lantzville.

The campaign of ‘selective enforcement’ against us, and the $80,000 to $100,000 spent doing so (confirmed by one sitting city councillor and one not re-elected), was the result of a dysfunctional council being obsessed with antiquated bylaws. Bylaws that were created from the notion of unlimited resources and 10¢ a litre gasoline (which has facilitated our ‘urban sprawl’) and our current food supply (our food travels an average of 3,000 km from food to plate). The other key piece is council’s unwillingness to stand up to our well-known community bully, Mr. Brash, who publicly threatened council if they would not shut us down.

Therefore, for the sake of our health and our relationship, it is time for us to move on, in order to continue to create positive change in the world. Creating positive change is fundamentally why we are farmers, are founders of the Bowen Road Farmers’ Market, were instrumental in creating the Lantzville Farmers’ Market, why we publish Synergy, and why we also volunteer for various boards and causes, etc.

What’s wrong?

In April of this year, the mayor of the District of Lantzville announced they had hired the new planner and that urban farming would be a ‘top priority’. Therefore it was ironic that the planner’s comprehensive report and staff recommendation was still voted down by the ‘old guard’ on council. This, in the face of the fact that numerous municipalities have already passed bylaws allowing and even promoting ‘urban agriculture’. Fortunately, because of a technicality in the provincial statutes (a councillor had been absent from the meeting when the vote took place) the mayor was able to bring the motion forward again, and the motion passed by one vote.

This narrow margin clearly illustrates that there is a contingent on council who continue to be against growing food for sale, and who continue to go against the wishes of the people of Lantzville. The last municipal election should have served as a message and lesson to those elected and re-elected when the voters turned out in droves, doubling the turnout from the usual 22% to 44%, removing three of the four councillors who were most vocal against us. Since that time, the ‘old guard’ on council has continued to block ‘progress’.

The so-called ‘mediation’ that we agreed to was no more than a one-sided pressure tactic, with the angry neighbour calling the shots and the District of Lantzville spending more of the taxpayers’ money. The ‘agreement’ was solely directed at us, and was a case of, ‘agree to these terms or you will be sued.’ Even so, Mr. Brash dragged out the process for 10 months: citing ‘too busy’ to even begin for two months; then each time we awaited a response it would take weeks, and as much as two months to hear back. We would regularly contact the ‘mediator’ to ask if we were still in a ‘mediation’. Despite the mediator’s claim that the Brash’s were ‘acting in good faith’, their campaign of hostile surveillance and bad behaviour did not waver throughout the entire ‘mediation’: taking photographs several times per day (of Nicole wheel-barrowing, weeding and feeding the chickens), taking photos of us unloading bags of leaves from our little hatchback, attacking and ripping boards off of our fence, following Dirk around the neighbourhood in his vehicle taking photos at each stop (in January, both Councillor Denise Haime and her husband, ex-mayor, Colin Haime, joined in on this ‘vehicle pursuit’ up a dead end road). To top it off, the Brash’s showed the mediator a bag containing compost they had obtained from our property, claiming it was ‘manure’. We asked how trespassing onto our property can be considered ‘acting in good faith’? We took the mediator outside and showed him the beautiful, black, earthy compost. He stuck his nose right on it and admitted there was no odour.

What needs to change?

As more and more people discover that we grow less than 4% of our food on Vancouver Island, the discussion inevitably turns to growing more food locally, including in urban areas. We have only two days fresh food supply in the stores—if people are shopping normally. Meaning, if an upheaval occurs, food stores would be empty in a matter of hours.

Our current provincial government commissioned a study in 2006 (seven years ago) that states that we need 200,000 more acres of farmland in BC (with good soil and with access to good irrigation) in order to be food self-sufficient.

Urban farming is catching fire around the world. Growing food is the antidote to globalization having now run amok. It relocalizes the economy, it reconnects people to the land and to each other through our food supply. It creates local jobs, transfers old world skills in a new way to our young people preparing them for their future. It, at the same time, also addresses the provincially mandated requirements for municipalities to map out strategies to respond to climate change and begins the ‘transition’ from our incredibly unsustainable use of fossil fuel, by reducing the number of kilometres our food travels from farm to plate.

Finally, in Lantzville, as a classic example, the number one cry for over 20 years has been to ‘revitalize the downtown core’. What better way than to create a farmers’ market which provides a place and space for community members to meet and collaborate with each other, bringing together ideas, strengths and skills, which can be applied through the effort of visioning and cooperation to build a community that we can all be proud of.

This, and more, has always been our vision. And this is why we have devoted almost three years of our lives, standing up to the ‘authorities’ in order to facilitate meaningful change. It is now up to the rest of the people of Lantzville and others in their respective communities to take up the torch, find and elect people who will actually represent their values and carry out their wishes.