Message From Compassion Farm

Many people have asked where our 16 month legal battle with the District of Lantzville is at. For those who are new to the issue here is a bit of background:

A year ago September — now, ex-Lantzville city councillor — Doug Parkhurst, lodged a formal complaint against us under the “Unsightly premises bylaw”. This stemmed from the pile of soil we were making near the edge of the roadway which we needed to replace our barren moonscape created by the previous owner, who had stripped the land and sold all of the top soil.

Later, Parkhurst and — now ex-mayor — Colin Haime insisted it was a “safety issue of blocking the snowplow and emergency vehicles”. It bears mentioning that we live on a quiet dead end road with forest across from us with just four neighbours past our house, all of which have acreages like ours.

Furthermore, there are often obstructions on Fernmar Road (including unlicensed vehicles which actually sit on the pavement). We immediately complied and moved the pile which had several hundred pounds of squash ripening on it. During that process, the bylaw officer Brian Brack visited twice more to inspect even though he had given us until the end of October to complete the task.

On his third visit (that we know of), the bylaw officer took the liberty to drive into our back yard with his boss, while we were working in our vegetable patch. A few days later, (the fourth visit that we are aware of) Brack arrived to inform us that Council had instructed him to now enforce a zoning bylaw to prevent us from using our property for “agricultural purposes”. He followed up with a letter, (by courier) stating we were in contravention of the residential land use which states that the growing of crops for sale is not permitted on our 2.5 acres. We were ordered to “cease all agricultural activity”. We found this interesting as two of our neighbours have horses, one has cows and sells the meat. It is also interesting to note that many people in Lantzville sell eggs, flowers, jam, pies and such from their residential properties. One of our district councillors also sells christmas trees as an ‘agricultural product’ within a residential zone and benefits by receiving a considerable reduction in property tax. We had never applied even though we have been eligible for 10 of the 12 years we have lived here.

In our preliminary attempts to dialogue with the district of Lantzville, they showed no interest in the fact that we grow less than 5% of our food on Vancouver Island; that “Urban Farming” is a global movement and that we had the support of all our neighbors except for Jim Brash who had expressed his disdain towards us for years as his cultural orientation is that of the monolithic, manicured, McMansion approach to life.

The now ex-mayor, Colin Haime, consistently and repeatedly insisted on ‘compliance’ with each letter from the District of Lantzville containing threats.

For more background on this sordid tale, please see the links found at the end of the article.

Where we are at now is an undeclared cease fire (verses a truce or a draw of any sort).

We look forward to hearing from the District of Lantzville in the new year.  As we drew closer to the municipal election, the four councillors who were against us became even more persistent which deafened them in their ability to hear the many raised voices in Lantzville speaking in support of us and in support of urban farming (including in packed public meetings). These councillors referred to people who were for urban farming as “special interest groups”. The citizens of Lantzville responded by more than doubling the vote of the previous election, from 21% to 44% (contrasted with Nanaimo at just 26% and Victoria at 26% — their best turnout in nine years)!

The final result was three of the four councillors how were the most intransigent, committed political suicide and were kicked out by the citizens of Lantzville.

We are fairly certain that our newly elected councillors and our new mayor will represent the voice of reason and the wishes of the true majority, rather than blind adherence to laws, no matter how outdated and ridiculous they are.

Nicole and I agreed and publicly declared 15 months ago that we were willing to obey any law that makes sense.

During one of several TV interviews, I went further, openly pledging to stop farming and even “leave Lantzville if that is what the people of Lantzville want”.

At this point we are hoping that the mayor and council will meet in January and invite us to collaborate with them to come up with a “made in Lantzville solution”.

Ultimately, our interest has always been sustainability. Since we import 95% of our food, much of which travels over 3,000 kilometers, we feel strongly that we have an ethical responsibility as individuals and as a community to ‘transition’ to a way of living that is less dependent on cheap fossil fuel and high chemical input industrial agriculture and factory farming.

Therefore, together we would move towards re-localizing our economy; a key element is where our food is grown, how, by who, how far it travels and finally, what are some of the many true costs rarely accounted for. These range from how we treat people (farming families, workers/slave labour) how we treat the soil, water and air and ask what are the other long term hidden costs that result from our addiction to convenience and low price?

First and foremost we hope that we can continue to make a positive contribution to our community of 3,600 residents, and if not, move to one of the many communities nearby where agriculture and Urban Farming is not only allowed and permitted but supported, encouraged and protected.

On a lighter note, we recently dug the last 1,000 of 5,000 pounds of potatoes and are already planning next year’s crop! We look forward to seeing you at the farmers’ market!

Dirk Becker is an organic farmer, agricultural advocate and assists in the creation of this publication.