Wrenna Robertson: Support Compassion Farm and sustainable, local food production

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      By Wrenna Robertson

      On a small acreage in Lantzville, B.C., history is being made. For the past year, Dirk Becker and his partner Nicole Shaw have been embroiled in a legal battle against the District of Lantzville for their ongoing act of civil disobedience.

      On their two-and-a-half acres of residentially zoned property, Dirk and Nicole grow food—mountains of incredible food on the most beautiful and biologically diverse piece of property I have seen. Mountains of wholesome, organic food that they have been ordered to destroy.

      Dirk and Nicole have been farming in violation of a zoning bylaw, which states that residentially zoned property cannot be used for agricultural purposes.

      While many cities in North America (including Vancouver and Victoria) have amended their bylaws to support urban agriculture as a legal home-based business, the small community of 3,500 residents north of Nanaimo has not. When Becker acquired the property in 1999, it was stripped bare, the previous owner having mined the land to sell off soil, then sand, and finally gravel, reducing the level of the property by four feet. The land has been painstakingly restored by Becker (joined by Shaw in 2006), one wheelbarrow at a time.

      It now stands as an oasis, a model of urban agriculture and organic farming. It utterly teems with life, and absolutely sustains life.

      A carpenter by trade, Becker took up the plow as a political action. Refusing to follow the industrial model, he grows a highly diverse array of crops without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. It is low-paying, back-breaking work, but his commitment to change does not stop there. He has twice run for politics, once municipally and once provincially, founded Nanaimo’s most successful farmers’ market, served on many boards ranging from social to environmental, and raised awareness about the dire state of our food system.

      Yet for all Becker’s work to protect our ability to eat, he has often been painted the enemy. Recently the District of Lantzville retained a law firm in further persecution of Becker’s defence of food.

      It is crucial that this issue be properly reframed. This issue is not one of Becker versus the District of Lantzville. Becker and Shaw are not simply fighting the system, they are fighting for us all. They are on the front line, paying with their physical and emotional well-being so that each member of our society—from those who purchase their beautiful wholesome food at the weekly Bowen Road Farmers Market, to their neighbour and original complaintant, to Lantzville’s mayor Colin Haime—can continue to feed ourselves now and in our potentially turbulent future.

      Becker has, for the past 10 years, been taking a stand for what we all need to stand for—for the very essence of what allows us to stand up and function—the ability to nourish our bodies.

      This is not a quaint topic, not an issue of hipsters and yuppies buying trendy foods at expensive grocery stores. This is about our ever decreasing ability to control the quality and quantity of foods that we put into our bodies, and into the mouths of our children. He is a leader and an example of what we can do, what we should do.

      Yes, Becker and Shaw are in violation of a city bylaw, but it is bylaws such as this that need to be changed. Their fight is parallel to those of the bright visionaries of our past—visionaries such as Rosa Parks, whose act of “civil disobedience” in refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white passenger in 1955 made her an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. If it were not for brave and bold, idealistic individuals such as Rosa Parks and Dirk Becker, our society would fail to progress.

      But Becker and Shaw cannot take on this struggle alone, nor should they have to. This is not their fight. This is the fight for every one of us who wants to ensure our current and future food supply.

      It has been said that it takes less energy to condemn than it does to think. We all need to take some time to recognize that when current bylaws are no longer serving us, they need to be changed. We must encourage real thought, deep awareness of the very bleak reality of our current food supply.

      It is easy to feel insulated from the global food crisis as we continue to walk into our local grocery stores and see the shelves constantly stocked with goods. We need to see that what increasingly lines those shelves and aisles is not food, but products. Manufactured goods being packaged up and sold to us as nourishment. Our food choices are more and more being dictated not by seasons and regions, but by a corporation’s bottom line.

      The fight for access to food is not limited to peasants in Bolivia, or starving women and children in Somalia. Their crisis is indeed deep and immediate, but we must not allow such crises to deflect us from our own dire reality. Vancouver Island produces between just five and 10 percent of our food supply, and there exists just two days' worth of fresh food supply.

      There is very strong evidence that our society doesn’t fully understand the precipice at which we teeter. Sustainably minded individuals choose to go vegan, eating lower on the food chain as energy conversion ratios demand. Cookbooks continue to sell as individuals attempt to approach self-sufficiency by eating more foods cooked at home. But if our conscious, deliberate choices are still leading us to the grocery store to purchase foreign-farmed or factory-formed foods, we are getting it wrong.

      The only responsible ethic of eating is to focus on local, seasonal foods. But that we may do so, farmers like Becker and Shaw need to be supported.

      Eating has lately become a political act. We can no longer count on voting with our dollar at the grocery store. The demand for local foods is growing exponentially, but currently this demand far exceeds supply. Just five percent of the land base in B.C. is active farmland, and only 50 percent of the land in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) is under production. All municipalities must recognize the urgency with which this issue need be addressed.

      It is irrelevant whether you live in Becker’s community or not. The model of urban organic agriculture is the surest means to addressing our greater environmental crisis. When communities everywhere are able and encouraged to grow their own food, we will jointly be addressing issues of greenhouse gas emissions, industrial pollution, waterway nitrification, farmland degradation, and biodiversity depletion.

      Food grown without need for long-distance transport, without petrochemical inputs, and with total ecosystem health as tantamount to economic health is the key. Such a model will not only serve to heal the planet, it will also heal our bodies.

      Please support the fight to save Compassion Farm. Join “Protect Urban Agriculture, Save Compassion Farm...” on Facebook to learn more about how you may help ensure our current and future food supply.

      Wrenna Robertson is a Vancouver Island writer with a keen interest in eating locally grown, sustainably produced food.



      Frank Martens

      Aug 21, 2011 at 3:57pm

      Unless the people of Lantzville stand up for Dirk and Nicole, there is very little that we, out side of that community, can do for them. I've written to the mayor and council suggesting that it is time for Lantzville to change its by-laws, but they don't care, they don't even reply to any emails. I've suggested to members of our organization that they write letters of appeal, but these have not been considered as well. They don't give a damn about, and don't take any notice of, what people outside of their community have to say.
      The only thing that will get their attention is the threat of an election where people who are willing to stand up for urban agriculture will run against them--and possibly win.
      Frank Martens
      Summerland Director
      Farmland Defense League of BC

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      Aug 21, 2011 at 7:44pm

      [1] They should take it all the way to the Supreme Court,

      [2] They should make the Cost so high for the City that the City can not possibly recover the costs even if they take the land via any final judgement,

      [3] This couple need a WEBSITE with regular updates + Donation Receiving,

      [4] Any Court will EVENTUALLY side with this brave Couples RIGHT TO MAKE LEGAL A LIVING, BY-LAW OR NOT!

      I am giving them $20 to start please give them what you can, better yet support them buy their produce!

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      Aug 21, 2011 at 10:06pm

      The bylaws are utter BS. Companies like Monsanto and others are
      trying to take total control of what we grow and eat. The US FDA have
      been waging war on these sorts of efforts in the USA and should be
      called out for what they are doing, namely, waging a war on the population by trying to railroad all food production into the hands of corporate agribusiness that is destroying biodiversity. This couple are my heros and the government is the enemy of the people in this instance!

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      Aug 21, 2011 at 10:17pm

      Dirk and Nicole are setting up a paypal account so donations may be made online. Please check back over the next few days, as I will post this information when it is available. Other ways to donate can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/nicole-shaw/compassion-farm-defense-fund/... (You may have to join the group on Facebook to view this page). Thank you!

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      Trina Bagnall

      Aug 22, 2011 at 5:02pm

      It is extremely disappointing that people are being prosecuted for growing and selling organic food. We need more organic food, not less. It's just another example of our government taking control over things that we should be allowed to control for ourselves and making the system stronger that seeks to poison us with toxic food. But it's the toxic food producers who pay for all those influence-peddlers' campaigns. It's about money and keeping the rest of us unhealthy so we don't wage a revolution.

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      Aug 22, 2011 at 5:28pm

      Thank You Wrenna for such an encouraging and uplifting article!
      It has been an exhausting 11 months!
      We encourage people to write letters to the two Nanaimo newspapers:
      This creates teachable moments for thousands of people and the blowback will reach our sleepy little town of Lantzville pop. 3600.

      Nanaimo Daily News

      Nanaimo News Bulletin

      Yours in Service Dirk Becker

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      Jamie Wallace

      Aug 22, 2011 at 5:53pm

      I live in Lantzville and have visited the Compassion Farm. Both Dirk and Nicole deserve our thanks for turning this previous gravel pit into a diverse wonderful landscape. I am a landscape designer who thinks this type of landscape is the wave of the future, out of necessity if nothing else. There farm is not only feeding many families in this region it is opening up our eyes to other land use options.

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      Karen Smith

      Aug 22, 2011 at 5:59pm

      I feel the government needs to stop subsidizing junk food and unhealthy eating and start supporting their local farmers and sustainable living. Only then will we be healthy as a society and able to afford to eat well.

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      Susana Michaelis

      Aug 22, 2011 at 6:01pm

      For those of us who have the privilege of visiting Compassion Farm and learning from Dirk and Nicole how they produce so much food on an urban lot, it is so incredibly inspiring! If we had everyone turning lawns, boulevards and wasteland into vibrant food producing gardens and urban farms, we could easily eat locally year-round and stick to the 100 mile diet. These small organic farms and gardens are beautiful, incorporating flowers, herbs and fruit trees and bushes. They attract birds, bees, butterflies and small critters that make the area a wildlife sanctuary. Compared to a manicured lawn or toxic chemical-laden property these organic urban green spaces, are a joy to visit. We need more urban farmers like Dirk and Nicole, What a wonderful world we could create in the midst of suburbia! If you want to support the survival of Compassion Farm and the legal struggle Dirk and Nicole are facing, please donate to the Fund that Wrenna has mentioned. You will be able to donate by Paypal from anywhere.

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      Aug 22, 2011 at 6:12pm

      We also would liket to thank the Georgia Strait for having the vision to see the value of Wrenna's article and therfore making it available to it's thoughtful readers!
      For folks who would like more background information, here are the 3 articles we have done thus far in Synergy Magazine:

      #1 "A Lantzville Couple’s Fight for the Right to Grow Food"

      #2 http://www.synergymag.ca/ways-means-of-bullying/

      #3 http://www.synergymag.ca/lantzville-takes-legal-action/

      Your in Service Dirk Becker

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