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.
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.
“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
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.
“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.
“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
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.”
“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.
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.
— With files from Kylie Stanton