While Kitty Sharkey tends her Nigerian dwarf goats and her ducks, chickens and rabbits in her Oakland, California backyard, a Vancouver Island urban homesteader faces legal action if he doesn’t tear up his small farm.
Dirk Becker’s Compassion Farm has run afoul of Lantzville, British Columbiaís bylaw against farming within municipal limits. One of the 3,661 people counted in the last (2006) census objected to his selling vegetables grown on his 2.5-acre lot in the seaside community.
Becker and his partner, Nicole Shaw, received notice from the District of Lantzville in November 2010 that they had 90 days to cease all agricultural activity. To put this in context, they live on a road most city dwellers would consider semi-rural. Three doors down from them, a neighbor raises cows. At the end of the road, horses graze in pastures. So to be told they could not grow vegetables and fruit struck Nicole as a “head shaker.”
Making the land live again
Becker and Shaw have restored a damaged piece of land. A Nanaimo Web site states, ďthe 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 Dirk assumed ownership of this property, all that remained was gravel. There were no worms, no grasshoppers, no birds, no butterflies; essentially – no living creatures!Ē
According to a CBC report, the District of Lantzville “is working on a new bylaw that would allow for-profit farming on residential property.” Becker could apply for a temporary permit until the new bylaw is in place. There is no guarantee it would be awarded, and Becker has a number of objections to doing so. He wants the council to appoint a committee to develop the bylaw, and he expresses concern the bylaw may be too restrictive. He also worries the Temporary Use Permit could be withdrawn at any time.
In March 2011, on the District of Lantzville Web site, Mayor Colin Haime posted a message to residents. He cautioned, “Although Council has been receiving a variety of communications on the numerous benefits of local food production, there have also been concerns expressed as it relates to the increase of traffic, odour (stemming from the organic materials used in these instances), importation of foreign materials, potential contaminants, potential well contamination, water use and pests. Further, the question has been raised as to why intensive agricultural activities should be allowed within residential areas when there is significant agriculturally zoned properties that are not currently being used for agricultural activities.”
Widespread support for Compassion Farm
More than 200 people turned out for a Council hearing on urban agriculture. Mayor Haime insisted, “Sure, we could just grab a bylaw from somewhere else. We could just pass that. Nanaimo has one. Victoria has one. Parksville has one coming up. Oak Bay has one. And in every single one of those, the existing farm would be out of business. And so if you fault us for taking the time to look at it, because of things like that, thatís a blame Iím willing to take.”
Becker’s response was, “I think we’re seeing a revolution in the world, and I think this little, tiny example here is one facet of that.”
The originally 90 days passed. Council extended it to 180 days. Becker still refused to apply for the temporary permit. So now the District of Lantzville is threatening to take Compassion Farm to court.
Both the District and Compassion Farm are spending scarce funds on lawyers. Both have better uses for that money. Council needs to speed up the deliberation process on the new bylaw. They also need to grapple with current realities and the increasing need for local food security. And they need to understand a small farm cannot operate with uncertainty. Nor can they suspend operations while Council debates their future.
Becker and Shaw need to be left in peace to tend their crops and sell their produce at the farmerís market Becker started. This duo has made fresh, organic produce more readily available in Lantzville. Thatís reason for celebration, not litigation.
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Photo of Compassion Farm, used by permission