–Ellen Lewers, Sooke
Council passed a business bylaw affecting farmers. Your own policy says that those affected by bylaws should be consulted, but that did not happen and a two-minute opportunity to speak to a bylaw is hardly discussion and time to discuss the ramifications.
I registered to speak to the bylaw, but during the break, I was cut off from the meeting and could not sign back in. I emailed [staff] as well to get back in but to no avail. I tried for an hour. Now I will tell you why this is not a good bylaw for farm folk.
1. Farmers battle the elements of rain, storms, frost and drought. This can lead to destroyed greenhouses for example, which are not covered by insurance, drought which means a lot of water use, which is charged full rate until one uses up a normal residential use for the year which is approx. $1,000.We know what frost, drought and storms as well as blights, bears, deer, raccoons and cougar and birds and rabbits, can do to an entire crop. Bear can wipe out an entire blueberry crop or all your animals as can cougar or raccoons, depending on your animals or produce grown and also some theft involved. Farm insurance does not cover the loss of livestock or produce crops. Farmer eats it so to speak.
2. Food costs for animals always on the rise as well as fuel costs and farmers can’t constantly raise prices to match.
3. Farmers can only purchase farm fuel if they have a truck or a van with no seats so we pay the same price as everyone else for fuel.
4. Farmers, if they have farm status on their property can apply for a 10% reduction on their hydro, if a business, hydro requires that they pay higher rates than normal rates.
5. There is a lack of local large animal vets in the area, so travel a big part and cost attached.
6. No local slaughter facilities or cutting facilities to accommodate farmers to again the cost and time lost for farmers chasing down amenities.
7. If you sell any meat products the insurance company will not give you farm insurance, so if you want to farm and need a mortgage and want to sell meat products, well no insurance so the bank won’t give you a mortgage.
8. To sell jams and jellies, VIAHA requires that you have them tested and pastries are considered low risk as long as there are no dairy products involved. Need farm insurance. Also, require Food Safe
9. Many buyers do not have the skills or the time to process foods into pies, jams, jellies, pickles etc so rely on farm stands to provide them with healthy foods. Personally, I have frequently provided customers with information on how to cook or use products. At one time I used to write recipes for the mirror to help the country market out with folks who had no idea how to use the foods being sold, ie squash, kale etc. It is slowly changing but farmers need to have a broad range of knowledge to sell their products.
10. Business license inspector, will visit the property, check bylaws, ( growing allowed in all zones) check buildings? Many farms have older buildings too close to property lines or not up to code, so now what? no licence?
11. Fire inspection. Well once a business is established fire inspections need to be carried out every year.
Already fire inspections are not fully carried out, look at your reports over the years. Does this mean hiring more fire inspectors as well as licenced inspectors? What are the costs for this?
12. Farm stands are exempt as defined by a ridiculous clause for altered products for Farm retail stands, selling value-added, trying to survive.
NOTE: Markets will need a licence to operate, but not the vendors in the market, who definitely sell altered products. It would be impossible to have all the vendors get a business licence as most are not in the District jurisdiction so the District would need to contact the other municipalities to see if they would be interested in applying this bylaw in their municipality. This is a discriminatory bylaw and must be immediately brought back to council for review. Why separate farm stand? Farm retail is just a ridiculous idea to create more employment at city hall and create more angst for an already overtaxed and underpaid family farm.
PS: Neither of our neighbouring municipalities, Metchosin or Juan de Fuca, require farm stand (altered or not) business licenses.
SPN note: This letter was submitted to Council and is published as an open letter at the request of the writer. Note that Letters are printed as is. Names of staff have been removed, and if there are typos, they will have been corrected. The next District Council meeting is on July 12. See the full agenda here.