Farm or Industry?

not part of the news story, just too good to not use!

Below is a quote from a recent issue of the local paper.

“As [the district] considers a bylaw that would allow large-scale composting, some residents denounce the idea as one that turns farming into an industrial operation.”

This is the third time in a decade that I can recall this issue coming up locally.  The basic problem is that we are officially a rural district, but have evolved in the last 50 years to become a bedroom community for the nearby city of Victoria.  People are drawn to buy homes here by the lovely hay fields, the great places for horseback riding, the pumpkin patches and orchards.  Subdivisions are surrounded by fields, as farms that escaped the strictures of the Agricultural Land Zones created in the early 1970’s were sold for development, while their neighbours were designated as agricultural land forever.

For the subdivision folk, the complaint is primarily about noise and odour.  In each of the three cases I know of, they have remarked on the trucks coming in with produce waste from the local grocery chain to dump at the compost facility.  They talk about the noise of the machinery, as the tractors turn the pile daily until the “batch” is ready.  They complain most strenuously about the odour, which I’ve experienced driving past one of the operations, and which I admit I’m happy not to have next door to me.

The farmers who have owned these operations all express bewilderment.  It’s compost for Pete’s sake, they say.  You know, good organic stuff for the soil.  What’s wrong with that? We’ve been here for decades, farming can be noisy and smelly at times, people have to allow for this if they want to live in the country.  And what the heck is wrong with selling what I create here on the farm?

The issue is complicated by the fact that the levels of jurisdiction disagree about that very point.  The district does not allow the sale of compost from a farm – sees this as an industrial enterprise, not a farming one.  The Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), a provincial body, allows farms to sell up to half of the compost they create on farm.  There are even two other government offices that could have a say in whether a farm can sell compost as well.  Phew.  Or Peeeuuuw.

I see two sides to this fence.  On the neighbours side, I agree the smell is something else when the compost is new.  I can see the district’s point of view that making compost entirely from material trucked in – grocery waste and tree chipping services, primarily – is not exactly a farm product.  The scale of the operations are a contributing factor to the conflict.  The daily trucks wouldn’t be in the picture if the vegetative content of the compost was coming from the farm itself. It is said that the tractors start up early and finish late.  I have a neighbour(not one of the composters) who gets started around 7am with his tractor – I’m up by then, but I’m not surprised the subdivision folk find that a bit early.  That said, I’ve lived in town in the past, and been surrounded by weed whippers and lawn mowers buzzing all afternoon and evening on the weekends, endured radios blaring from balconies in apartments I’ve lived in, and held my nose at the university where the gardeners spread the ripest mulch I have EVER smelled in the rhododendron beds, and in none of those places was I anywhere near a farm.

On the farmers side, the three that have tried this enterprise so far have all been long established family farms, here long before the neighbours were, and I think they feel the neighbourhood needs to recognize that it’s moved next door to an active farm, not the other way around. If they were making compost in the Cariboo, or even in a less populated area up-Island from here, this would be a non-issue, there’d be no one to care.  Also, the Agricultural Land Commission only allows them to sell half of the compost the make, which means they’re presumably using the other half.  Two of them have substantial acreage in vegetables (200 + acres each),  which must require copious applications of compost.  I see that as a farming practice, frankly.  And finally, farms are by definition almost, commercial enterprises – they are food factories.  The farmer is growing food to sell it, after all.  And if he’s using compost to do that, I’m pretty happy.  If he wants to sell some of the compost he makes, I think it makes good business sense.

My chickens give me more eggs than my family can eat, and I sell the extras.   No one complains.  Not even my neighbours who share the wake up calls my rooster provides, and the occasional cultivation provided by an escapee hen.  It might help that the neighbour gets free eggs from me when that happens.  And maybe that’s the heart of the issue.  What the composting farmers should be looking at is ways to be more neighbourly with this enterprise.  Maybe, despite the farms being here longer than the neighbours, the farmers need to go next door with a free yard or two of compost once in a while.  It works with eggs.

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10 thoughts on “Farm or Industry?

  1. wildramp says:

    Years ago, in an earlier chapter of my life, I was a real estate appraiser and was sent by a bank on an assignment to appraise a new house that was being purchased for its mortgage underwriting. It was located in northeastern Connecticut in a rural area in a brand new subdivision of McMansions. A beautiful house with a great floorplan and lovely finishing. BUT it was smack dab next to a facility that made compost. I asked the realtor how the houses in the new subdivision were selling and how long they had been on the market…..and she said they were selling fast but it was not a surprise to me when I went to the courthouse that the land transfer records did not substantiate that.

  2. […] up on one of the blogs I read that is posted by a farmer on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Sailors Small Farm. She reads this blog as well as the one I write for the Wild Ramp Market in Huntington and I really […]

  3. ROFLOLOLOLOL!!!!!!!! I needed this today!!! You know I’m going to steal the picture!

  4. This really is a big deal. First, compost shouldn’t stink. Using mechanical processes to speed up biological processes sounds good until you smell it. Besides, you’re smelling the loss in fertility. That’s not really first. First, you can’t pollute the commons. No that’s not first either. First, that’s a hilarious picture.

    Second, I could go on and on about this topic. Numerous examples come to mind of farms way out in the middle of nowhere doing their thing until somebody builds a subdivision next door and the subdivision votes that the farmer has to stop. But there are also numerous examples of suburbanites doing their own thing then some bonehead stinks up the place/ruins the view/deminishes the quality of life for his neighbors. Things change. I know. I’ll just stick to my first first: compost shoudn’t stink. Even humanure compost.

    • Yep, I’m with you ona lot of points with this, clearly. I don’t think compost should smell that bad either. Second, I think the scale is a big part of this. It wouldn’t be so smelly if they were just making enough for their own use. They would do a better job of making it, which would also help. Third, I think there is a point to be made that this is still primarily a farming area. Most of the land is zoned A-! – even if it’s just a pretty hay field now, the potential is always there for the owner/farmer to do something else with it, and I think that anyone moving into the area has to recognize and accept the possibility that in a year or two that field might be doing something else besides growing grass. The commons. There’s a thing people don’t consider anymore, but should. Farmers too.

      • Maybe that’s a solution. Maybe more of us should be composting. Taking it a step further, maybe we should decentralize our food distribution so we don’t have truckloads of waste in one spot. Either way, these are decisions we as individuals have to make, not suggestions for future legislation.

  5. I just watched a great movie the other day: http://ediblecitythemovie.com/
    which is the topic of urban farming taken to a different level – co-op grocery stores in Oakland, community gardens, school gardens, as well as back yards and vacant lots.
    Stuff like this starts with individuals, but the synergy won’t come till it’s more than individuals, it has to be community.

  6. smithranch says:

    I moved best door to a hydroponic farm about 2 years and have to admit I was a bit naive about what that would mean. There have been times when I’ve been pretty cranky at the late night trucks picking up produce, I rang the owner the night the massive air conditioner went on the blink and kept powering up every 30 seconds and was unimpressed when I realised they had their pump on our block to access the river…. But I look at the positives more, the lack of neighbours (with 3 small loud kids thats great) and the constant supply of dumped “scraps” I can access to add to my compost (and feed chooks if it’s really fresh).
    I think if you are going to go rural you need to be aware that things just like suburbia but then I guess that’s what I love about being here.
    Thanks for the great post.
    Michelle – Australia

    • This is just the kind of thing I was thinking of. You could be up in arms about the noise and the use of the river from your property etc, but you’ve chosen to live with the neighbours and accept the positives of the nature of their enterprise. They could have been more respectful of you by asking permission to access the river from your property, which you would probably have allowed in a crisis situation, like a pump shutting down or something. At least you’re getting scraps and your boys are getting room to be boys.

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