According to a farmer, the District of Sooke’s proposed business bylaw is “confusing and ambiguous” when it comes to farmstands.
Ellen Lewers, who’s operated Mrs. Lewers’s Farmhouse for 36 years, said the new bylaw would make it difficult for local farms to compete against businesses outside Sooke.
Farmstands are exempt from paying a business licence fee as long as they sell products such as vegetables, fruit and meat. The new bylaw says farmers will need a business licence if they sell baked, canned, altered natural food products, artwork or handcrafted items.
“Farmers are already up against the wall. Where is the support for local agriculture?” asked Lewers, who sells baked goods and home-canning items at her farmstand. “I’m a little concerned because I am the only farmstand in the District of Sooke.”
The revamp of the business licence bylaw is aimed at modernizing the document.
The original bylaw was first adopted in 2007, introducing the concept of business licensing to Sooke and outlining the process for issuing first-time licences. According to a municipal staff report, after 14 years and three amendment bylaws, Sooke’s business landscape has shifted to the point where a new bylaw is necessary.
A draft of the new bylaw includes farmstands, cannabis stores and mobile food vendors for the first time.
Councillors Al Beddows and Tony St-Pierre were concerned with the impact on local farmers.
“I’m at a bit of a loss what we’re trying to achieve here,” Beddows said.
St-Pierre said he worried another bureaucracy level was unnecessarily added since the province allows farmstands on ALR land. Any processed goods and sales creations must go through other levels of government, such as Island Health.
“Ideally, we need a level playing field for our farmers that comes in alignment with the province,” St-Pierre said.
District staff will take another look at the farmstand regulations and report back to council. The third reading of the bylaw, the last step before adoption, is expected at the April 12 council meeting.