Farmers turn out to oppose LUB

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Hours of op could ruin ag-business, say advocates

County residents piled into the Sturgeon County office last week with a clear message for their councillors: leave our agri-businesses alone.About 150 people came out to a public hearing on proposed revisions to Sturgeon County’s land use bylaw last Feb. 28. Many had to listen in from a side-room and the hallway because they couldn’t all fit in council chambers.

County council is considering sweeping changes to its land-use bylaw in its first major update to the law in 20 years.

Some of its most controversial changes are those related to agri-business, which includes on-farm sales, nurseries, market gardens, petting zoos and other functions that bring customers to a farm, but excludes abattoirs, agricultural product processing, restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts and home-based businesses.

The law, if passed, would have administrators set hours of operation for agri-business, with 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends and statutory holidays as guidelines, and make agri-business a discretionary use.

County current planning and development services manager Clayton Kittlitz emphasized that these rules applied only to the hours during which farms could have customers on their property, not to regular farm activity such as raising crops and animals.

Most of the speakers at last week’s public hearing spoke against these proposed rules and called for their elimination.

Tam Andersen of Prairie Gardens and Adventure Farm said these rules removed Albertans’ right to farm, as selling crops was a part of farming.

“Agriculture is agriculture. It is not a discretionary land use, and it’s critical we as farmers have the ability to grow our food and sell it.”

Andersen said the bylaw would effectively put a curfew on her farm’s operations and greatly restrict her ability to sell goods and services.

“It’s common for grocery stores to sell potatoes after 6 p.m.,” she noted.

“My question to you is: it’s not okay for the farmer who grows potatoes to sell them after 6 p.m.?”

These new rules targeted small farms and the 63 market gardens, greenhouses and U-pick operations now in the county, and would encourage the growth of large corporate farms, Andersen argued.

“Is that your vision?” she asked.

“We should be bragging about our agriculture. We should not be rolling up the sidewalk and closing the gates at six o’clock.”

Heather Edwards, a long-time Bon Accord resident and customer of local agri-businesses, said she could not shop at on-farm stores until after 6 p.m. due to her job, and would often go to U-pick gardens late at night to take advantage of the cool weather.

“We rely on these farms to feed our families with good, pure, healthy food,” she said, and customers expect them to have the same hours as the big box stores.

She also questioned how a customer visiting a farm store could be more disturbing than other common agricultural activities such as combining at 6 a.m.

“This just does not make any logical sense at all.”

John Wurz of the Morinville Hutterite colony said successful farms had made Sturgeon County famous, and that success came from farmers working long hours. The colony also often had customers coming in early in the morning or late at night due to the weather.

“I would think that the person who knows how many hours he should work is the farmer.”

Resident Ava Siemens said she lives next to and used to run an agri-business. She supported restrictions on their hours of operation, as she had ongoing issues with the noise created by corn mazes, U-picks and loudspeaker-enhanced weddings at night.

While she and her family supported the educational role of agri-business, “We do not feel we need to forfeit enjoyment of our property to allow this to happen,” she said.

The public hearing continues this March 28 at 1:30 p.m. in council chambers. Residents can register to speak and make written submissions before then by calling 780-939-8279 or emailing legislativeservices@sturgeoncounty.ca.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.