COLUMN: Limits on gardens must be sensible

Wright Turn

I’m trying to grow a green thumb.

As a kid, my parents did a little back-to-the-landing after settling on a 10-acre plot in Black Creek, north of Courtenay, and turning it into a hobby farm.

Along with a gaggle of various cute, furry farm animals that eventually found their way into the freezer, they cultivated what seemed like acres upon acres of vegetable gardens. We kids were given small corners to tend a few vegetables of our own, while also getting regular chores such as mucking out stalls, gathering eggs and, ugh, weeding.

After decades of being more or less plantless, I put a few seeds in the ground last spring.

My peas and tomatoes did tolerably well, but my cukes and pepper plants were chewed down by some pest (slugs, I think) before they ever had a chance.

This year, the tomatoes are suffering a bit and the peppers survived but are languishing, but the peas and cukes are looking good, a crop of leaf lettuce is thriving and a zucchini plant is sprouting like a bad weed (as are the actual weeds).

My thumb is far from green, but I should be able to make a half-decent salad this summer and I’m starting to understand the satisfaction of producing at least a miniscule portion of my own food.

And ever since the issue erupted rather unexpectedly in Lantzville last fall, my ‘urban farming’ radar has been on high.

And it’s been picking up on related stories from all over B.C.

The latest waves came this week from Greater Victoria, where the city’s daily paper reports that a Saanich woman interested in SPIN (small-plot intensive) farming has managed to avoid ticking off her neighbours by enlisting them.

Rather than limiting her urban agricultural endeavours to her own piece of paradise, this gardener knocked on doors and got folks to let her use their backyards and water.

Homeowners don’t have to get their hands dirty, but are rewarded with a weekly basket of fresh veggies. Produce left over is sold at a roadside stand, for which she’s got muni permission.

That’s the kind of initiative needed to battle our food security issues, not just on the Island, but everywhere, considering the vast majority of people rely too much on ‘elsewhere’ to produce our food.

That said, it’s logical that backyard farmers shouldn’t get carte blanche. We need reasonable, workable (and perhaps flexible) regulations to manage urban farming.

Considering the land will not be zoned for agricultural use, it might not make sense to have people on larger lots using every available inch for farming, just like most people wouldn’t want the same residential property taken over by a backyard mechanic’s operation.

But by the same token, homeowners shouldn’t be forced to keep as useless lawn, ground that could be used for growing produce.

What’s needed are regulations that keep reasonable backyard gardens from growing into unreasonable urban agriculture.

In Nanaimo, we’ve seen recent changes to allow homeowners to keep a few chickens and ducks. And an amendment to the proposed new zoning bylaw relaxes the limits on how much space residents can use to grow produce.

Both moves are sensible. The limits are sensible and reasonable.

In Lantzville, sense seems to have been lost – on both sides of the argument, mind you.

Without rehashing the details of the dispute, which we’ve been covering in our news pages and has been the subject of lively discussion on our letters page, I’ll admit I think the debate has gotten more than a little out of hand.

The real issue has been so muddled by posturing rhetoric and misinformation (again, from all corners), that a sensible solution might not be possible.

Frankly, both sides need to set aside their past differences and verbal sparring, agree that a compromise is needed and then make that compromise happen.