COMMENT: Too much Happy Valley farm … or too little imagination?
Recent comments by Coun. Cary Fisher and Coun. Jill Spearn—regarding Brenda Trenholme’s appeal to subdivide her Happy Valley property—taste like a slice of logical swiss cheese on a slab of imagination tofu.
And you’ll need a pinch of salt for the cracker too.
Sure, sure, everyone’s in favour of local agriculture. Just not in Rossland. Everyone knows it can’t happen here, it’s just impossible! Our climate prevents it. Taxes are too high. There are no farmers.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
If Trenholme and other Happy Valley landowners don’t want to pay taxes, its as simple as earning $2500 in some kind of agricultural product from their land, and there are plenty of young farmers out there who would be pleased for the opportunity to oblige, especially in a rad town like Rossland.
On the other hand, if imagination-free Happy Valley landowners want to sit idly on their juicy, mild-climate acreages and not use them—but then gripe about taxes—then I call them aristocratic lords whose pockets deserve to be targeted by the proletariat.
FARMIN’ IN ROSSLAND: It ain’t so hard and it’s also our heritage
Most gardeners like to gripe about the weather and how hard the season’s been. It’s part of the fun. But Rossland’s climate is actually quite favourable for a wide variety of crops and livestock. It ain’t any easier in Saskatchewan.
Fisher thinks farming is for elsewhere. He said, “If you want to be rural, and you want to have a farm, there are some other areas outside the City of Rossland you can have it.”
Now that’s a cow pat slap dab in the face of history.
I like Cary, don’t get me wrong, and his golf course is a boon to the community. But there’s still plenty of room on the edges of his course to grow a salad. Indeed, Redstone occupies the old Chinese Gardens, the fuel that fed Rossland’s gold rush. Masses of veggies were grown with simple tools and hauled up to Columbia Ave on the backs of hardworking gardeners.
Moreover, I suggest Fisher and other folks lacking local-food-imagination take a trip to the Rossland Museum where dedicated historians have drawn a map of Rossland dotted with tens of farms that produced dairy, vegetables, meat, fruit, and eggs.
We don’t face a lack of means, a particularly difficult climate, or even a lack of mouths watering for fresh, local produce. Nor do we, collectively, suffer a lack of will to farm.
CRAZY IDEALISTS: Farm land’s nice and all, but where are the farmers?
Spearn called local agriculture an “ideal.” She said, “The ideal around agriculture, and sustainability, and food production, and all that, is wonderful. But when the rubber hits the road, most people don’t have time, the energy, or the money to get into agriculture in the municipality of Rossland.”
Spearn’s comments echo those of Trenholme, who throws her despairing hands in the air: “People aren’t doing small farming.”
Most people may not have the inclination to farm, but some people most certainly do, and that’s more than enough.
Farmers need not own their land, and indeed that old model has lost favour among most young agriculturists who—cash poor but idea rich—now use a variety of ways to connect with landowners. Websites such as Linking Land and Future Farmers and the Kaslo-based Farmers to Farms unite people who own land with those who want land to farm.
Rossland is such a hip town, and the agricultural district such a short walk to amenities, that I could guarantee Trenholme would not only find someone, but would have a list of bright-eyed candidates from whom to choose if she wanted a farmer to help her with her taxes.
Rent them a room and suddenly the home also qualifies for farm class taxes, as well as the land.
FARM TAXES: Happy Valley livin’ should be nearly tax free
Low taxes should, in fact, be a natural benefit of ownership in Happy Valley. Urban farmers on small lots—like me—have to gross $10,000 in agricultural products before the BC government will give them “farm class” and cut their taxes to next-to-nothing. The high limit appropriately discourages abuse of farm classification on small lots.
But acreage owners in Happy Valley need only gross $2500 in “primary produce” priced for “farm gate sales,” and that’s before deductions for costs incurred!
Yes, in the good ol’ days, Trenholme and others could simply let a farmer’s cattle graze their fields and farm taxes were theirs for the taking.
But that was before Cargill, Monsanto, and other greasy corporate giants got their greedy grip around government necks and suffocated the living daylights out of sensible policies that allowed small farmers to slaughter cleanly, humanely, and locally. Meat production was relegated to massive abattoirs in the name of “health and safety.”
Thankfully—Maple Leaf recalls aside—these sanctioned mega-facilities have toilets and offices dedicated to the health inspector. Phew!
No, cattle may no longer be a viable way for folks in Happy Valley to earn their farm tax. But c’mon, think how easy it still is!
Maybe you like chickens. You can sell eggs at $5 per dozen: a mere 500 cartons of eggs could earn a Happy Vallian the farm tax. One hen produces about 20 dozen per year, so a farm need only keep some 30 hens to earn the farm tax—well below any conflict with the quota system. Just make a coop, fence in a run, order 60 chicks, send 30 roosters to freezer camp, and you’re off to the tax-free races.
Maybe you want to grow greens. Rachael Roussin sells mixed salad greens grown in Happy Valley for $5 a bag. You need only sell 500 bags of salad mix and voila, the coveted “farm tax” is yours. Each square meter of garden can easily produce five bags of greens in a season, so we’re talking about a garden on the order of 10 metres by 10 metres that will not only turn a modest profit, but will save the owner thousands in taxes.
(I might add, Roussin’s nutrient-dense greens beat the pants off the so-called “organic” salads in plastic boxes from California—as do the greens of anyone who takes the minimal time and effort required to grow a patch in their garden.)
These are just two obvious examples. There are many other ways the farm tax can be met, all of it off the backs of young farmers who are just begging for a piece of land to work on.
POETIC IDEALISTS: Farms are for postcards
People who don’t understand the importance of local food seem crippled by the perception that Rosslanders want Happy Valley to remain in large acreages to satisfy some irrational fixation with romantic, pastoral scenery.
Fisher said outsiders look in at “little hobby farms” and want to keep it that way. Trenholme argued that subdivision was only limited to five acres because “people enjoy the view.”
The view’s very nice, but that’s not the point. And no, there isn’t much farming going on in Happy Valley right now, but that’s not the point either.
There’s a concept called “City Country Fingers” popularized by the famous architect Christopher Alexander in his landmark tome, A Pattern Language. (I wish this masterpiece were compulsory reading in more high school and university courses.) The point of City Country Fingers is that—for a host of economic, social, and ecological reasons—it makes sense to have productive farmland stretch directly into dense pockets of urban living, like green fingers interlocked with “infill” fingers.
Fisher expressed confusion: “On one end of town we’re talking about infill, infill, infill on 30 foot lots, and on the other end we’re telling people [they need] five acre parcels.” He’s only confused because he hasn’t thought through the different needs of a city. Infill zones increase the efficiency of urban living. Nearby agricultural zones feed the infill zones efficiently.
And what’s the alternative? A homogeneous sprawl of semi-dense suburbanity with people driving hither and thither? That model is not only thoughtless but so provably inefficient and unsustainable that to replicate it any further would be best characterized as insanity.
Right now, with a little imagination, Rossland has all it needs to be a truly sustainable town. If the dense areas get denser, if urban agriculture is encouraged, and if landowners in Happy Valley forge partnerships with the many eager farmers out there looking for a chance to break new ground, we can be a town that not only walks the active-lifestyle walk, but also eats the fresh, local produce that forms the basis for complete health.
You are what you eat, after all. Hippocrates—known to doctors everywhere for the Hippocratic oath—held to a central maxim: “Let food be your medicine.”
SUBDIVISION: A slippery slope to lost agricultural potential
Trenholme is quite correct that other lots in Happy Valley are already less than the two hectare minimum, grandfathered in, as it were. And it is no wonder the neighbours would like to see Trenholme’s appeal go forward, since they too would profit from the ability to subdivide. But I don’t see these as reasons to lower the limit and allow more owners to subdivide.
The effects of subdivision are real. The R-1R “Detached Rural Residential” zone allows 200 square meters of dwelling coverage, and a maximum building coverage of 15 per cent.
To help visualize 15 percent, the owner of a two hectare parcel is permitted to build on top of an area roughly two-thirds the size of a Canadian football field. Recalling our earlier calculation with greens, that’s enough area to grow at least 10,000 bags of salad mix—or three bags for every Rossland resident. This is the potential lost with every subdivision.
I absolutely believe Trentholme when she says she only wants to build a “small home” to live out her days on a five acre parcel. But the next owner could just as well build on 3000 square meters without running into zone restrictions.
Look at the lots in Happy Valley, and imagine buildings on each one. Imagine how the cry for subdivision will not stop here, as each successive owner looks to profit from the value of their land. This is exactly how Canada’s most productive farmland turns into the suburban wastelands around Toronto, as one example.
Happy Valley is incredibly well situated for agriculture in Rossland. It’s south and east aspects warm early in the morning and keep sun through most of the day. The topography shelters much of the land from wind. And there’s a hungry population of 3500 a short walk away, most of whom would gladly source their food from the farm next door.
PUBLIC REPRESENTATION: Make your voice heard
Like council, I too am in favour of Trenholme going to the public with her proposal. And I fully expect to hear a diversity of opinions. But I hope the community’s voice as a whole will finally ring around the understanding that to change the OCP at this point would be the thin edge of a wedge that, over time, would see Happy Valley split into smaller lots covered with more buildings and ever-less capacity to truly farm.
At the moment, council believes opposition to Trenholme’s proposal amounted to “only one letter,” and that because the neighbours are in favour, it’s A-okay.
With only a modicum of imagination any Happy Valley owner can easily contrive a way to avoid their taxes. But if we go the way of subdivision, it will become increasingly difficult to expect anyone to farm for a living.
Will people farm again? You tell me.
Will oil prices rise? Will more droughts hammer the corn belt? Will transportation costs increase? Will the global economy get rocked again by all the fake money flying around? Will people increasingly recognize the damage caused to our health by processed foods, or foods harvested well-before-ripe and transported great distances? Will people increasingly value the flavour of fresh and the good it brings to mind and body?
Here’s my opinion, loud and clear for the public representation on this OCP amendment: As the global economy tips back to the real norm after a splash of exuberant decadence through the last half century, real food will come back into its own. Don’t touch the farms, leave them as they lie. You’ll be happy you did.
Editor’s Note: This article originally misspelled Brenda Trenholme’s name and has been corrected twice. Our apologies for the errors.