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A Vancouver Island farm built a brewery to follow ALR rules. They’re still being forced to close

Click to play video 'Popular Vancouver Island restaurant forced to close by Agricultural Land Commission' Popular Vancouver Island restaurant forced to close by Agricultural Land Commission
WATCH: The popular "Rusted Rake" restaurant has been forced to close its doors due to a decision by the Agricultural Land Commission. Aaron McArthur has the details.

A popular Vancouver Island farm-to-table restaurant is being forced to close by the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), despite jumping through hoops to try and follow provincial rules.

Jodie Lucas and Will Gemmell opened the Rusted Rake farm-to-table eatery on their Nanoose Bay farmland two years ago, quickly becoming a go-to gathering place in the community.

The couple ran into a roadblock in May after the ALC told them the eatery didn’t conform with Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) rules, forcing them to add a brewery to the restaurant.

READ MORE: Vancouver Island farm forced to add on brewery to keep restaurant open on ALR land

But after submitting its applications for both the brewery and non-farm use for the restaurant, the ALC denied both — leaving the Rusted Rake no choice but to close.

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“It breaks my heart that our little community is going to be missing out on an opportunity,” Lucas said Friday. “It breaks my heart that so many people have been so satisfied and impacted by us and are now losing their place, their local community place.

“Fifteen people lost their jobs today,” she added through tears, “including myself.”

 

According to the 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 invested $150,000 to be in compliance — including buying brewing equipment and grains, and turning the land.

WATCH: (May 14) Vancouver Island couple say they’re being forced to open brewery

Click to play video 'Vancouver Island couple say they’re being forced to open brewery' Vancouver Island couple say they’re being forced to open brewery
Vancouver Island couple say they’re being forced to open brewery

Lucas says the non-farm-use application was denied because the restaurant wasn’t producing enough product for the number of seats it has. The reason for denying the brewery was not clear.

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“We don’t know,” she said. “We’re left without answers.”

The BC Liberals said the closure is an example of how ALR regulations set by the province need to change.

READ MORE: Vancouver Island farmers complain about changes to Agricultural Land Reserve

“Rather than simply closing down any business that doesn’t follow their strict rules to the letter, the ALC needs to take into account the unique context of applications and work with owners and farmers to reach a resolution that best serves the local community,” Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell said in a statement.

“If the current government continues to stifle agricultural business, local farmers — and the British Columbians they serve — are going to be the ones paying the price.”

The NDP government recently passed bills 15 and 52, which limit what farmers can do on their land, including what can be sold and what kind of structures can be built.

WATCH: (May 24) Metro Vancouver farmers and opposition BC Liberals rally against ALR laws

Click to play video 'Metro Vancouver farmers and opposition BC Liberals rally against ALR laws' Metro Vancouver farmers and opposition BC Liberals rally against ALR laws
Metro Vancouver farmers and opposition BC Liberals rally against ALR laws

In her own statement, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said the ALC’s decision concerning the Rusted Rake “was made based on rules put in place by the former BC Liberal government in 2016.”

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“In the coming weeks government will be engaging directly with farmers, the public and stakeholders to discuss how we can support more value-added activities on farms within the ALR,” Popham added.

But Stillwell tells Global News Popham should step in.

READ MORE: Popular Langley harvest and Christmas festivals may be shut down due to land use dispute

“The minister has the ability to make the decisions, and she needs to show some leadership now,” she said. “The [ALC] policy is having devastating impacts for many of our farmers and entrepreneurs.

Sunday will be the Rusted Rake’s final day of business, before it turns back into a farm-only venture. An appeals process exists, but it’s not clear if Lucas and Gemmell will explore it.

“We’re just very disheartened,” Lucas said.

“[The ALC] don’t see the connection between rural communities, small farms and independent businesses.”
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— With files from Kylie Stanton