Local organic farmers, Dirk Becker and Nicole Shaw, have been ordered by the Regional District of Nanaimo, under the direction of the District of Lantzville, to cease “all agricultural activity” on their 2.5 acre farm in upper Lantzville. The action was initially the result of a neighbour-based complaint to the Lantzville District Council. The first RDN letter received by the couple, dated September 23, 2010, quoted Lantzville’s “Unsightly Premises” bylaw and ordered them to “remove the piles of soil and manure from the property… within 14 days” or regional district staff could remove the soil at the couple’s expense. Upon meeting with a bylaw enforcement officer, an agreement was made that only one pile would be moved – the one closest to the road. Although they had 14 days, Becker and Shaw moved the pile within 48 hours of the meeting. However, the trouble did not end there. The enforcer returned to the property on October 25, 2010, letting the couple know they would be receiving another RDN letter enforcing zoning regulations. The letter, dated November 2, 2010, stated that the couple had “90 days to cease all agricultural activity”.
Becker and Shaw grow fruit and vegetables on their land which they sell at the Bowen Road Farmers Market in Nanaimo, which they founded. “The spirit and intent of the bylaw,” says Dirk Becker, “is to protect residents from having a neighbour move in and set up a noisy machine shop or large pig farm – that’s understandable. What we want to see is an amendment to the bylaw as Victoria has done, where urban farming is considered legal and a home-based business.” Says Nicole Shaw, “Several people have stopped in to ‘find out what all the fuss is about’ and once they see the backyard exclaim, ‘well, all you have here is a big vegetable garden!'”
Only five percent of Vancouver Island’s food supply is grown locally while 95% is imported. There is only two days fresh food supply on Vancouver Island. That means that any disruption in ferry service, trucking, or problems at the US border would have a dramatic and immediate effect on the island’s food supply. The current bylaw means all urban farming is illegal. This includes honey, vegetables, meat, eggs, plants, flowers, fruit, and nuts. Of course, this affects urban farmers at the Bowen Road Farmers Market as well as other farmers’ markets in Canada where municipal bylaws have not been updated to reflect support for sustainable local food production.
According to Becker, “the previous owner used an excavator and dump truck to mine and scrape the land bare. He had a soil screener set up on the property, selling the soil, then sand, then gravel, which resulted in lowering the level of this property by about four feet. When I assumed ownership of this property, all that remained was gravel. There were no worms, no grasshoppers, no birds, no butterflies; essentially – no living creatures! Since 1999, we have made a tremendous effort to heal the land, beginning slowly – one wheelbarrow at a time. It has been a gradual, organic process – from planting a few fruit trees and having a small growing area, to expanding with more hand-made soil using wood chips from local tree companies and a small amount of horse manure from Lantzville stables. Now we have four kinds of bees, several types of dragonflies, numerous types of butterflies, frogs, toads, snakes, and hundreds of birds. We have dedicated our time to supporting hundreds of community members who have sought guidance on how to become more sustainable in their own lives; from educating people on how to support sustainable local initiatives, to teaching families how to grow their own food.”
GoNanaimo.com intends to follow this issue closely over the weeks and months to come. The ball is now in the court of the Regional District of Nanaimo and the District of Lantzville. Will they support sustainability and local food production – as the politicians running these bodies often claim to be doing – or will they ‘squash’ local people who grow food? The credibility of the RDN and the District of Lantzville on a whole range of issues including environmental protection and recycling hangs in the balance. For more information on the organic farming shutdown in Lantzville, call Nicole Shaw and Dirk Becker at 250-390-5199.
UPDATE: Mayor Haime, the leading opponent of urban farming in Lantzville, was voted out of office in the November, 2011, municipal elections and the new mayor and council are taking a far more positive approach to this issue than the former council.