ICC hosts Long Table Fundraiser for Dragonfly Farm

Longtable pic

Dan’s veggies

Once upon a time, on Old McDonald’s farm, nobody raised an eyebrow over the e-i-e-i-o-s that, naturally, came with the turf.  On present day Vancouver Island, however, some pastoral neighbours have changed their tune—making the freedom to farm (even in BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve) an uphill battle in this province.


In the case of Dragonfly Farm (west of Duncan), years of noise complaints from a neighbor led Dan and Regan Ferguson to a legal battle that resulted in the hallmark 2010 decision that, yes, animal noises are natural to basic farming practices. That animals indeed belong on farms in BC, if farmers so choose. But it took eight years and $43,000 in legal fees to get there—an ongoing financial burden for the Fergusons that the Island Chef’s Collaborative (ICC) is hoping to offset with its second-ever long table fundraiser on September 8.


“What happened to the Fergusons is scary; it’s fascinating,” says Ceri Barlow, a board member with ICC. “It really speaks to what’s happening in food production all over the world—farmers are being pushed out because of residential needs, even on land that’s reserved especially for farming.


“Dragonfly (Farm) is provincially and municipally zoned as farmland—and the fact that Dan had to defend that, to defend his right to farm, is terrifying.”


The harvest-style dinner—co-hosted with the Cowichan Valley Wine Festival on the Fergusons’ farm—is the second of its kind from the ICC this year, with the first event benefitting the group’s long-standing microloan program.


“For the ICC, farming is integral to a healthy society—and we think the public needs to know about the kinds of restrictions that are being put on our farmers,” says Barlow. “The wheels aren’t turning with policymakers yet.”


The Fergusons run a small organic operation producing spinach, salad greens, lamb, and poultry that supplies a number of ICC member restaurants throughout Victoria and the Cowichan Valley. Claiming that the farm’s unique landscaping made animal noises unbearable, one neighbour launched a formal complaint with the Farm Industry Review Board (FIRB) in 2010. This was after eight years of legal threats and calls to the police over what were mostly birdcalls from a roadside pasture between 9AM and 5PM.


Under current provincial policy, FIRB is obligated to investigate all complaints, and there’s no avenue under the Right To Farm Act that protects farmers when a complainant is simply being troublesome. In this case, 19 of the Ferguson’s other neighbours signed a petition in support of the farm and all of its inherent birdcalls. Even if the claim is eventually dismissed—as this one was—there’s no remuneration available for legal fees.


“For us, $43,000 is three new greenhouses or a couple of tractors or an update to my entire irrigation system,” Ferguson explained, noting that thousands of additional dollars were spent trying to resolve the noise complaints outside of the courtroom. “In reality, an unhappy neighbour has cost me almost $100,000—and there’s been a psychological cost, too.”


But this decade-long headache might be worth the trouble if it shifts BC’s conception of farmland in the right direction.


“What other industry in British Columbia has a process where a neighbour can move next door to a business and then have a formal channel to complain about it? If you move next to a mill, you can’t call up the CEO and drag them through a hearing process. But somehow that’s not only possible, but acceptable, with agriculture.”


In the wake of FIRB’s investigation, the Fergusons joined the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s agricultural advisory commission. They also helped develop a pamphlet outlining the so-called “hazards” of living within the Agricultural Land Reserve and graciously accepted the ICC’s help in getting their message out.


“I’m asking everyone to help share the cost incurred in this precedent-setting case, a precedent that most British Columbians would anticipate as a given, but that we were forced to prove,” says Dan Ferguson, who hopes that the fundraiser will raise awareness about the issue itself and push administrators to seek simpler, more appropriate methods for resolving complaints made to FIRB.


“The Agricultural Land Reserve is fundamentally very important to all of us and I will continue to stand firm in my support for it and defense of it.  Battles like this only promote its demise and further urban encroachment. This is about hanging on to one of the most precious resources that British Columbians’ have—our ability to grow food.”


Tickets to the dinner are $100 and can be purchased at Hotel Rialto, Stone Soup Inn, Spinnakers, Cook Culture, Blue Grouse Winery, Averill Creek Winery or Vignetti Zanatta. For event details, visit www.iccbc.ca.

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