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Loyalist Township farmers look to diversify business models, if they’re allowed

Loyalist Township farmers look to diversify business models, if they’re allowed
Farmers in Loyalist Township were in for a shock last year when they tried to rezone their property to expand their business to bring in more revenue.

Throughout Loyalist Township, farm land isn’t hard to come by. It makes up a large part of the municipality’s economy.

But it’s difficult for farmers to bring in an income year-round when the ground is cold and covered in snow. And even with ideal conditions, some farmers have a hard time making ends meet, prompting some to find different ways to generate income and stay in business.

“We’d be selling land. Definitely,” Jake Murray of Topsy Farms said. “So we have to change.”

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Topsy Farms is located on Amherst Island, and the owners have been able to open a retail store for the sheep’s wool they produce, but only because it’s directly related to farming. That’s because the Loyalist Township official plan states that land zoned agricultural can only be used for farming.

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Recently, the MacKinnon Brothers farm in nearby Bath has rezoned their property to allow one of its barns to host special events and gatherings, like weddings.

“It was a really long process,” Ivan MacKinnon said. “[There were] a lot of challenges working through the staff requirements and different interpretations of provincial policy statements, so it took about eight or nine months to be able to get to this point.”

But while the Township’s official plan states one thing, councillor’s voted against their staff recommendation to deny the MacKinnon Brother’s zoning change.

“It’s our job as councillors to see a larger picture, a bigger vision,” Loyalist Township Councillor, Nathan Townend said.

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“The point is that small businesses, particularly agricultural businesses like McKinnon Brothers, should know that council wants to work with them,” he added.

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Jake Murray from Topsy Farms was one of the local farmers watching closely when the Township council allowed farmland to be used for more than just farming. Murray supported the MacKinnon plan, because he’s looking to follow the same path.

“There’s no benefits package, there’s no retirement plan [in farming],” Murray said. “My dad is in his mid-70’s and he’s going to work until he can’t possibly work anymore.

“It’s the nature of this job — but it doesn’t have to be that way.”

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While it’s unlikely that the loyalist Township official will change any time soon, some councillors say it’s more likely they’ll be flexible in helping farmers diversify their businesses in order to survive.