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.