Urban farmers pleased with city bylaw changes

Urban farmers can now grow and sell their own food

Jesse Brown of the Mason Street City Farm tends to tomatoes growing in the garden.

Local urban farmers are rejoicing about the ability to grow and sell their own food, after Victoria city council recently passed a number of bylaw changes allowing them to do so.

“I’m happy to see it happen, I think it’s a totally necessary step and something that the community of Victoria was really asking for,” said Julia Ford, an urban farmer with City Harvest and Welland Legacy Orchard.

Council recently passed a number of bylaw changes that would expand the range of potential sites for new urban food production businesses to include commercial areas, vacant lots, residential properties, rooftops, institutional properties and other underused sites.

Those wanting to sell food, however, are required to obtain a business licence for offsite sales (such as retail locations and restaurants) and on-site sales (such as food stands and farm box pick-up locations). A year-long licence would cost $100 while a three-month licence is $25. The change eliminates the need for a development permit.

The changes also permit the loading of small-scale commercial urban food production products into a delivery truck one time per day.

“It allows us to operate with more security. We have more clarity with our neighbours, more clarity with our customers about what we’re doing. It just means that we can have more clarity and people have more access to our services,” Ford said.

“The important thing is to position affordable food alongside affordable housing. To me, both of those things go hand in hand.”

Jesse Brown, co-owner of Mason Street City Farm, said the changes allow him to legally set up a farm stand outside his business and sell his fresh produce to residents.

“I think that if any time a barrier is removed from being able to produce or sell food in the city, there will be that one more person, or those 10 or 20 more people who won’t get their operation shut down and will feel more comfortable producing and selling food,” he said.

“It opens up the door for more secure business options for different people.”

However, the changes did not come without challenges.

Originally, staff recommended changing the wording in the official community plan to make urban farmers “subservient to the density, built form, place character, and land use objectives,” which drew the ire of many who came to speak against the proposed changes during the September council meeting. In the end, council voted not to change the wording.

Mayor Lisa Helps said she overlooked the impact the language could have, adding there shouldn’t be a constant dichotomy between farmers and developers, but instead they need to work together to encourage food production in the city.

“The whole point of trying a new approach to a topic is that we put out a whole bunch of ideas. Some of them are really good ideas and some of them are bad ideas, that’s where we rely on the public to help guide us through the process,” said Helps.

“No part of the plan should be subservient to any other part of the plan. That makes good sense if we’re trying to build a sustainable community”

Ford said the changes are a good first step, but added more policy changes are needed to strengthen and expand the sector, including more progressive policy around land-use, policies that add protection to urban farming areas, and specific targets in the community plan.

The changes are part of the Growing in the City initiative to enhance local urban food systems on both public and private land.