Lantzville’s Council… Biased?

As a brief background, Dirk and I received our first letter from the RDN/District of Lantzville in September of 2010 telling us to “remove all piles of soil from our property”. In October, we received a second letter ordering us to “cease all agricultural activity” on our 2.5 acre property. For the story, see’s-fight-for-the-right-to-grow-food

This past year of dealing with the District of Lantzville has been a surreal experience. Last November, my partner, Dirk and I agreed that if the community of Lantzville did not want our veggie farm here, we’ll move. Since then, we have received hundreds of letters of support, along with hundreds of ‘Lantzvillagers’ stopping by to see what all the controversy is about. There have also been several festive public rallies outside of city hall. And, due to Councillor Denise Haime (our mayor’s wife) repeating that supporters of urban farming are simply “the same 25 people”, volunteers walked door to door in several neighbourhoods in Lantzville (including our street) with petitions to “Terminate Legal Action Against Compassion Farm Immediately” and for the bylaw to allow more than 30% of one’s property for growing food. The results? In just three days, hundreds of signatures. Andrew Mostad, spokesperson for Friends of Urban Agriculture in Lantzville (FUAL), spoke up during a council meeting to share that this amounted to an 80% success rate of signatures. The majority of the 20% who did not sign explained that one of the three accountants on council do their accounting. A few said they had heard there were problems with smell and flies (the mayor’s public relations campaign has worked to some degree; whereas, those who have decided to do their own investigation have found this information to be woefully patently false).

So it seems to us that the community, indeed, supports our farm being here in Lantzville. And if it hadn’t been for the community’s support, we wouldn’t have had the strength to continue standing strong.

While our mayor continues to insist to the mainstream media that council has done all they can to work with us, the fact of the matter is that their behaviour has shown that they have only been interested in punitive enforcement and threats of legal action.

Council’s latest example has been creating and “ramming through” second reading, a bylaw that will, in essence, shut us down. It is a bylaw that allows ‘food gardens’, not ‘urban agriculture’; which allows some residents to sell their ‘excess produce’, not actually make a living from growing food.

Council has also formed an “Urban Food Gardens Advisory Committee” (under the auspices of doing what the public wants) that is stacked against Urban Agriculture. Firstly, appointing none other than our ‘bully’ neighbour, Jim Brash—an overtly biased move. Next, they also appointed the two councillors who have gone on record as being ‘against’ us and Urban Agriculture. They appointed no farmers (we know of at least two who applied) and no soil experts (one of our councillors has a Phd in Agrology—that would be a ‘soil expert’— and had previously owned a certified organic farm, and we know of another Agrologist who had farming experience and applied, but wasn’t appointed).

Council publicized that the Committee meetings would be open to the public, so at the first meeting, the place was packed. Many people wanted to address the bias. Lo and behold, we found out once we were there that the public was only allowed to watch, not to speak.

As the first two meetings progressed, it became increasingly obvious that there are only two people on the committee open to having Urban Agriculture as a part of Lantzville’s community fabric: Angela Giuriato, a landscape designer, and Andrew Mostad, spokesperson for FUAL.

The committee meetings are essentially making a mockery of the public open houses that were held earlier this year. All of the people who took time out of their busy lives to attend the Wednesday and/or Saturday open houses—their time and energy has been squandered by council. Council has ignored all of that valuable input. And now, this ‘rigged’ committee is going around in circles, beginning the process all over again but most of them are incapable of giving any constructive input.

There’s our neighbour, Jim Brash, who cannot answer a simple question from the chairperson, “What is your vision of Lantzville with regards to Urban Agriculture?” Rather than answer, he picked up papers and began reading aloud technical data about manure. When pressed further, his response was, “May I finish speaking?” The chair challenged him that he wasn’t answering the question, and he continued reading the technical data. He continued to demonstrate his inability to listen throughout the meeting. At the end of the second meeting, Brash promised that he would bring “information on the negatives of onsite composting” to the next meeting. Does that sound unbiased? His input (big surprise) was to ban composting. Other input he gave was if everyone had a vegetable garden, we’d have a public safety hazard on our hands. He explained that our children would be in danger from bears and cougars, “just like in Port Alberni”.

Then there is David Elgie, who missed the first committee meeting and spent most of the second meeting behaving as though he hadn’t read any of the notes provided: “Where is upper Lantzville?” he asked, “I guess I need a definition of Urban Food Gardens”—the definition of which was right in the draft bylaw. When asked by the chair, what was his vision of Lantzville with regards to Urban Agriculture, he acted confused… as though he didn’t understand the question. Finally, his answer was, “Well, I have a garden.” It seems he did not brief himself on the matter at hand before attending. What criteria did he meet in order to be appointed, if farmers and soil experts were not chosen?

At this point in history, Canadians regularly express their discontent over politicians not listening. Here in Lantzville, where we have easy access to city hall and our elected officials, the majority of council has time and time again shown blatant disregard for the wishes of the residents of our community. Instead, they hide behind ‘concerns’ of manure and public safety, when the truth is that their stance all along (regardless of what they have said) has been pro-residential development and anti-agriculture.

Now, after a year of living under the threat of legal action, and at the strong encouragement of our closest advisors, we have hired a lawyer. (Click here for our lawyer’s letter to city council.)

Municipal elections in BC are being held in November. We encourage each and every one of you to envision what you want your community to look like in the next 10, 20, 30 years. Then, take action in order to translate your vision into positive, pro-active, practical and lasting change. Let us now work together to create our future.

Among other things, Nicole is a farmer, feminist, artist, founding member of the Bowen Road Farmers’ Market, and volunteers her time to publish this magazine.