Woodwynn Farms and the opioid crisis
I read the article “Woodwynn Farms and the Opioid Crisis” (November 2017) with interest and also a growing sense of frustration for the hoops and delays that Richard Leblanc and the Creating Homefulness Society are having to endure thanks to Central Saanich Council.
Something prompted me to look up the definition of a bureaucrat. According to the online definition, a bureaucrat is: “An official in a government department, in particular one perceived as being concerned with procedural correctness at the expense of people’s needs.”
The excellent article by Pamela Roth on the Woodwynn Farm operation was followed by the recent decision of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) to refuse the application for a non-farm use on the Woodwynn Farm property in Central Saanich. That decision should be deeply disappointing to anyone concerned about local agriculture and the social fabric of the Greater Victoria region. The property, run by the Creating Homefulness Society, offers a therapeutic program of training and rehabilitation for individuals struggling with addictions, homelessness and/or mental health challenges.
The non-farm use application was to provide on-site housing for program participants on 0.8 hectares (approximately 1 percent) of the property. In making its decision the ALC concluded, “while the Executive Committee recognizes the social benefits of the proposal, it does not outweigh the priority given to agriculture.” The basis for the decision also referenced the ALC mandate regarding their role in (a) preservation of agricultural land, and (b) encouraging farming on agricultural land.
In refusing the application, I believe the ALC has made a fundamental misinterpretation of their mandate. While the social benefit is the driving force behind the farm, the commission was asked to rule specifically on a non-farm use that is a central component of a business model for operation of a labour-intensive, integrated, mixed-farming operation.
The allowance of housing on 0.8 hectares (1 percent) of the farm land base would have provided direct and effective support to the participant workers, enhanced the efficiency of the work force in the agricultural operation, and significantly reduced overhead costs for off-site housing and transportation.
To suggest that this “loss” of agricultural land is a significant concern also demonstrates an institutional blindness to the rampant speculation in agricultural land that is increasing costs, alienating productive land and decreasing agricultural output throughout the province—particularly in the southwest region.
Prior to the current ownership by the Creating Homefulness Society, this farm had not been managed to its agricultural potential. The increased productivity of the land as a consequence of housing the on-site labour force is likely to be orders of magnitude greater than the lost productivity from 0.8 hectares of hay land.
The executive committee of the ALC appears to have been unable or unwilling to evaluate an atypical agricultural business model for high-value mixed-farm production that is predicated on a dedicated on-site labour force. Productivity enhancements to date have demonstrated the potential for the farm to become an important contributor to the District agricultural community—a social benefit directly linked to its agricultural purpose and part of a program that should be facilitated and encouraged by any citizen interested in the survival of local agriculture and healthy communities.
Pamela Roth’s article has turned out to be very timely. Since that was published, Woodwynn has been hit by two more roadblocks to its success: The ALC denied the farm’s request to use one percent of its land to house its client workers, and Central Saanich has slapped the minimal existing residential facilities with eviction notices, effective immediately.
Leaving aside for the moment the small-minded NIMBY mindset of Central Saanich council and residents, the attitude of the ALC escapes me.
Recently, along with their denial to Woodwynn, they have allowed commercial interests to take over two large parcels of ALR land for shopping centres in North Saanich, and an industrial marijuana grower to build greenhouses over prime land in Central Saanich. These lands that were supposed to be under ALC care for agricultural purposes are all to be covered over by large commercial, non-food interests.
Yet Woodwynn, a successfully operating farm, is denied permission to house the people who could work to make the farm even more productive and in the process, create better lives for themselves.
I would love to see one of your great investigative journalists give us a detailed report on the workings of the ALC and why it finds it acceptable to make variances for deep-pocket commercialism and not for a real farm, working to help real people.