Saanich broadening rules for farm markets

To compete with grocers, municipality looks to lift sales restrictions for farmers

Peruse the aisles of the Root Cellar Village Green Grocer and you’ll get the impression it’s not like any other grocery store in Saanich.

That’s because it’s zoned as a farm market, as opposed to a commercial property, and that zoning comes with restrictions on what the owners can sell.

“The old bylaw states we aren’t able to sell red meat and some ready-made stuff like a local provider’s hummus or sea salt,” said Adam Orser, owner of the Root Cellar.

Next week a public hearing will be held to discuss removing restrictions on the zoning, which could allow the two operating farm markets in Sannich – the Root Cellar and Galey Farms Market – to be more competitive businesses.

“They’re competing against grocery stores and they’re operating like a David and Goliath situation,” said Coun. Paul Gerrard, chair of the Healthy Saanich committee.

“They’re trying to compete against these large grocery stores and they’re not allowed to sell some of the products grocery stores can sell. We need to support our local farmers, otherwise they’re just going to go under.”

Currently the bylaw allows for the sale of seafood and poultry at farm markets, but non-dairy processed foods – from dips to honey – aren’t allowed on shelves.

The proposed amendment, if approved, would allow for the sale of locally raised beef, pork, lamb and bison, as well as non-dairy processed foods.

“I would far prefer to go up Oldfield Road and buy local berries, rather than buy them cheaper in the store and they’re imported,” Gerrard said.

Saanich’s official community plan includes a strong focus on food security and local agriculture. “It’s all right to say we’re going to support it, but if you don’t buy their products because you know you can buy it cheaper in a supermarket, then you can’t blame people for going out of business.”

Orser calls the proposed update a “welcome change.”

“It’ll definitely work to legitimize the things we’re doing within our business. We want to use Island producers for all of our meat products,” he said. “It allows us to remain competitive in those markets, as well as a local producer.”

The public hearing is July 23 at 7:30 p.m. in Saanich council chambers, 770 Vernon Ave.

kslavin@saanichnews.com