Agricultural Land Reserve rules frustrate Nanoose farmers

A Nanoose Bay farming couple say they should not have to set up a brewery in order to serve home-grown food in their on-site restaurant.

“I find it disheartening that the production of alcohol takes priority over food on ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve) land,” said Jodie Lucas, who owns and runs the Rusted Rake farm and eatery with Will Gemmell.

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“I find that astonishing in this day and age when ALR land needs to be preserved for food production, when young people are trying their hardest to farm and make a living that it is roadblock after roadblock after roadblock.”

Lucas and Gemmell opened their restaurant serving breakfast and lunch in 2017. Approvals were received from the local fire and health officials, they said.

But they do not have approval from the Agricultural Land Commission, which administers rules governing the 46,159 square kilometres of land designated as agricultural in B.C.

Lucas and Gemmell are frustrated that, after discussions with commission staff, it looks like the only way their restaurant will be able to continue is if they tie it to a brewery. They have now planted five acres of barley to produce beer and purchased brewery equipment. Now they are waiting for a decision.

Lucas and Gemmell are speaking out along with other farmers concerned about new agriculture-related legislation. Issues include rules around second homes and eliminating a farmer’s ability to apply directly to the commission to exclude land.

The Nanoose couple, who have a four-year-old daughter, Hazel, purchased their nearly 18-acre farm in 2013 when it was run-down. Their farm is entirely within the ALR and only 10 acres is suitable for farming, Lucas said. Today, the diversified farm is thriving, Lucas said. “Everything we grow goes to the eatery — everything.” Along with barley, they have a few cattle for beef to supply the restaurant, a 1,400-square-foot greenhouse, plus 600 blueberry plants, carrots, beets, kale, tomatoes, cabbage and more.

The Rusted Rake eatery has indoor seating for 55 and 80 seats outdoors in good weather, she said. Nanoose Bay, between Nanaimo and Parksville, needed a gathering place, Lucas said. “We have a phenomenal business. We work extremely hard and we are extremely proud,” she said.

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said in a statement it was the previous government that established rules for serving food in the ALR. “Generally, restaurants have always required a decision from the ALC to operate on the ALR,” Popham said.

“The only related change made by the new government was to level the playing field so that all alcohol producers in the ALR had the same opportunities as those that were previously provided only to wineries, including the ability to operate a food-and-beverage service lounge.”

Popham said she is willing to look at “whether we need to further change the old government’s rules to better support producers, while ensuring we continue to protect the ALR.”

No changes have been made to rules for events held on ALR land. Those rules were brought in by the previous government, she said. “Landowners wishing to hold events that exceed the criteria in the 2016 regulation can apply to the ALC, which will make an independent decision on their applications.”

Popham said supporting producers to hold events and serve farm products on their properties helps build their businesses and connects people in B.C. to the food and beverages they enjoy.

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