Devon Hume – December 25th,2020

Since I can remember, every holiday season, our friends and family would swap gift-wrapped home-made holiday foods—from Aunt Grace’s world-famous jams to Uncle Bob’s pickled beets carefully packaged in mason jars with festive ribbons. Farmers and foods have always gone hand in hand. It starts with raw farm produce and snowballs into a delectable feast of fresh salsas, marmalades, breads and baked goods.

Keeping this in mind, market goers are often surprised to learn that selling these farm products is not always permitted on BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve. There are loose guidelines for what you can and can’t sell in the ALR, with the agricultural land commission (ALC) having the final say.

If you, an aspiring farmer, wish to process, prepare, package and store a delicious strawberry jelly consisting of 50% strawberries from your farm and 50% store- bought products (sugar, pectin and so on), you should be okay, as 50% of the product was produced on your farm. If you made a special batch with 40% home-grown strawberries, 10% raspberries from your neighbour next door, and 50% sugar/pectin, your product does not meet the 50% threshold and can’t be sold on site. 50% is the figure they note in the policy but does it really matter? Your neighbour is most likely also a farmer in the ALR?

Although the numeric figure does make it easier to gauge, writing policy in this way doesn’t really help the farmer. Perhaps a sheep farmer, an alpaca farmer and a knitter want to combine forces to make beautiful hand-made mittens. Are they expected to apply to the ALC with proof that 51% of the wool came from the property that is preparing the garments?

If you manage to navigate through the regulations and produce your favourite berry blend or warm winter mitts, you should have a great new farm product ready for your customers. However, there are a few more hurdles to overcome before you can sell the product. All farm products need to be produced on your farm if that is where you want to sell them. If you are selling products from another farm, you are limited to 300 square meters with no less than 50% retail space dedicated to your farm products or products from an association you belong to. If you find this to be confusing and scattered, you are not alone. I had to read the current bills several times before I could fully understand them. Although I comprehend the policies, I still don’t understand why they were written like that and how this helps encourage farming or the preservation of agricultural land.

The complexities continue from there. For the sake of discussion, you are a dairy farmer and made ice cream, or perhaps life has dealt you lemons and you followed through by making lemonade. You can sell these packaged products from your farm stand if you meet the criteria mentioned above; however, you can’t serve ice cream or lemonade in the ALR. Bistros, cafes and restaurants are considered “non-farm use” establishments, except for food and beverage lounges. This may be a light at the end of the tunnel for our aspiring lemonade producer but, what is involved in getting permission to have a food and beverage lounge in the ALR? To have a food and beverage lounge, such as a lemonade stand, in the ALR, you are required to start up an alcohol production facility. Yes, you heard me right. To sell lemonade, you must first produce beer, wine, cider, mead or other such spirits. I believe this part of the act is meant to work with requirements in the Liquor and Cannabis regulations to make food products available in establishments serving alcohol. It seems odd that when so many people are talking about food security, the current regulations are seemingly promoting beverage security.

After reading through the current policies, I can’t help but wonder how farmers are expected to follow them. There aren’t clear rules or a set of lucid guidelines. It’s very much a hazy grey area and up to the interpretation of the agricultural land commission. I can’t imagine the Ministry of Agriculture would expect a panel of ALC commissioners convene each time a batch of jelly is produced using blueberries from the next-door neighbour’s yard.

Enter the “Home-Based Craft Food Act 2.0” a private members’ bill introduced this past July. The bill was designed to create value-added opportunities for farmers to support their families. It also sets out clear guidelines to the sell farm products in the ALR.

Food products fall under different risk categories—from lower-risk foods such as baked goods and pies to higher-risk temperature-controlled foods such as eggs, meat and canned items. Labels would be applied to all products; these would note the farm name, address and any potential allergens contained in the product. Anyone wishing to take advantage of these opportunities would need food safety certification appropriate for the risk level of the food product.

In my opinion, the most valuable part of this bill is that it gives space for the opportunity to produce and serve food items without alcohol production. That’s right! If passed, this bill would permit you to have a lemonade stand without the booze. The past few years have been incredibly hard on farmers due to more restrictions, limitations and now the COVID-19 pandemic. In this scenario, the Home-Based Craft Food bill will provide an opportunity for farmers to sell more products and allows them to diversify the products they do sell. It would be a huge win for farmers and a great way to promote food security. At the end of the day, the more freedom we give to our farmers, the more food they will produce.

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