Vancouver Island farm forced to add on brewery to keep restaurant open on ALR land
A Vancouver Island couple who have spent years working to make a Nanoose Bay farm viable say their business is at risk because of an unusual request.
Jodie Lucas and Will Gemmell opened the Rusted Rake farm-to-table eatery on the land two years ago, and it quickly became a communal gathering spot for locals to enjoy fresh food.
But now, they’re being told the restaurant doesn’t conform with Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) rules and to stay open, they’re being forced to expand — by adding a brewery.
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“Here we are trying to preserve ALR land for food, and this beautiful land is being taken away and having to be turned over for alcohol,” said Lucas.
“It’s disappointing, it’s frustrating, and it doesn’t make any sense.”
According to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) Act, bistros, cafes and restaurants are considered non-farm use in the ALR.
But those rules don’t apply if the eatery is operated along with a brewery, winery, cidery, distillery or meadery.
Lucas and Gemmell have invested $150,000 to be in compliance — including buying equipment and grains, and turning the land — but Lucas said is should never have come to this.
“I just don’t think the ALC rules are up to date, and they need to be rewritten,” he said.
The couple have applied to the ALC to operate in its current form, which is currently under review.
In the meantime, they’ve started an online petition, calling on the provincial government to make changes that allow farmers to operate food service facilities without liquor production.
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Customers say they’re on the farm’s side.
“I read the petition, I signed it,” John Dunn said. “I think if you talked to anyone who comes in [to the farm], they’d be really happy with what’s going on here.”
Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said the farm’s point is a fair one, and admits the Rusted Rake isn’t alone.
“It’s something to be considered, because I’m hearing it not just in this situation but there’s other interest around the province,” she said.
Until changes are made, beer is the only solution for the Rusted Rake.
“Our hands are tied,” Lucas said.
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