Hopping mad

Why a move by Clearview Township to restrict some on-farm processing could have implications for value-adding across the province

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Clearview Township hops grower says a bylaw passed earlier this year means it has fewer rights than apple and grape growers to market directly to consumers.

The bylaw passed in March means no farmers other than those growing grapes and apples can create consumer products on farm with an alcohol content.

While apple growers can offer direct-to-consumer sales of cider, and grape growers have a similar right for their wine, this leaves hops growers, potato growers and even beekeepers out of luck if they wish to produce beer, vodka or mead. The bylaw aims to put breweries in industrial zones.

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Why it matters: Municipal bylaws discriminating among different types of farmers are rare, which is why the Ontario Federation of Agriculture has concern about the Clearview Township bylaw.

Laurie Thatcher-Craig of Clear Valley Hops in Nottawa, south of Collingwood, says the bylaw discriminates against certain crops by limiting on-farm diversification potential.

She and her husband John Craig have filed a Local Planning Appeal Tribunal challenge to stop the bylaw, and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and Ontario Hops Growers Association have filed to be parties in support of the action.

The couple purchased the farm in 2011, when a broad range of diversity was permitted. They set to work on plans for what Thatcher-Craig termed a nanobrewery – not even a microbrewery, she said, but even smaller. Along with beer, they have perfected what she considers an outstanding recipe for non-alcoholic beer.

The entry sign at Clear Valley Hops.
photo: Courtesy Laurie Thatcher-Craig

As well as the 600-sq.-ft. nanobrewery, they hope to set up a 600-sq.-ft. retail outlet showcasing the many lesser-known uses for this crop – hops medicinal compounds, hops tea, hops chocolate, even hops bath salts.

The 74-acre property they bought was zoned Rural and Development Area. They checked with the township to be sure this zoning permitted an on-site nanobrewery as an agri-tourism-related on-farm diversified use. The township’s support was a deciding factor in their purchase, along with a high-visibility location on County Road 124 that promised agri-tourism potential.

“They were shaking our hands when we bought the farm, saying, ‘Thank you for doing this, thank you for showcasing agricultural innovation.’”

“We were their poster child,” she said.

That was then.

A change in government eliminated any farmers from the township council in 2018 and the tone changed.

Doug Measures, previously a councillor in the township is now mayor and in previous years he was a supporter of Clear Valley Hops, even supporting their application for a provincial Agri-Food Innovation Excellence Award they won in 2015.

They put in the first applications for their outlet in August 2017. At the time, Thatcher-Craig said, the municipality had a mayor who was a farmer and a different municipal planner, and they set out through the maze of requirements for engineers’ and planners’ reports.

Since 2018, Thatcher-Craig says they’ve been told what they’ve been planning does not conform.

The planner the Craigs had hired for their applications did not agree. He investigated, and found no municipal regulations that would have disallowed their plans.

When Thatcher-Craig was warned by the municipality not to bring in her site-plan justification report, her planner told her to take it in regardless. They accepted it, but put it out of the way in a drawer. It was never brought to council.

“I met with the mayor. I met with my councillor. Neither one wanted to help me,” she said.

When their planner discovered Bylaw 19-09 and pored over its 200 pages, Thatcher-Craig recalled, he told them simply, “They are trying to outlaw what you are trying to do.”

The LPAT challenge was launched and the OFA and Ontario Hops Growers Association (OHGA) came on board.

“At a time when Canadian farmers are facing unprecedented market conditions globally and climatically, Clearview Township council has chosen to add to the stress of the family farm by blocking access to the local market as well,” said Thatcher-Craig. “This is not consistent with other municipalities in Ontario.”

Children run through growing hops at Clear Valley Hops.
photo: Courtesy Laurie Thatcher-Craig

Targeting particular on-farm diversity

OFA senior planner Peter Jeffery agreed, saying he is unaware of such a bylaw in any other Ontario municipality.

“This one seems to be particularly unique in the way it is crafted,” Jeffery said.

“What the farmer is trying to do is set up a really tiny brewery. And the intent is not to market beer, but as a method of demonstrating how different varieties of hops influence the flavour and probably colour of beer. Maybe this variety makes the product taste like this, and that variety changes the flavour,” he explained.

“If you look at the provincial guidelines on permitted uses, breweries are clearly permitted as an on-farm diversified use.”

When provincial policy statements and municipal bylaws clash, Jeffery said, the provincial policy statement is seen as the floor standard for municipalities.

“You can be more restrictive than that initial policy, but you can’t do it in a way that unduly restricts other policies. Provincial policy speaks clearly to enabling on-farm diversified uses, and that can be pretty broad in prime agricultural areas.

“In this instance, it seems you are targeting one specific form of on-farm diversified permitted use.

“How much difference is there between a brewery and a cidery, other than ingredients? This is discriminating against a specific crop – why?”

Thatcher-Craig pointed out that Caledon, virtually next door to Clearview, has two on-farm breweries and bylaws that are supportive of their farmers. She has no doubt that Bylaw 19-09 will affect their property values and those of Clearview Township growers in a similar situation.

“We are the largest producers of commercial hops in Ontario. We are on a major highway three minutes away from Collingwood. We paid a premium for the farm and for the zoning,” she said.

“Why buy here, when you can go to Caledon and get the red-carpet treatment for on-farm diversity?”

In his letter of support, Jeffery argued that the economic viability and sustainability of farms is often directly tied to their ability to add value to the crops they produce, and termed the township position short-sighted.

On June 14, three months after the bylaw passed, the Township of Clearview issued a press release setting out the many ways its Housekeeping Bylaw (as it was termed) supported the rural economy – eliminating restrictions on the number and maximum area of accessory farm buildings in the rural zone, permitting equestrian facilities as a primary permitted use in agricultural and rural zones, and improving the definition of wineries and cideries to ensure the public can visit and sample the products.

“On the other hand, breweries remain as industrial uses, allowed as-of-right only in the industrial zone,” the press release stated.

“In order to ensure compatibility with neighbouring properties and the availability of adequate services, any proposed brewery in an agricultural, rural or development zone will require an amendment to the township’s comprehensive zoning bylaw. The amendment process allows the township to review the appropriateness of adding a new type of use to a zone and gives the public an opportunity to participate in that process.”

In case the term “adequate services” pertains to water supply, Thatcher-Craig supplied a chart from The Economist that shows it takes roughly three times as much water to make a litre of wine as it does to make a litre of beer. Nevertheless, she pointed out, fermentation by growers is banned except for those producing apples and grapes. This means the apple grower across the street from her can run a cidery with the exact same zoning she has.

“There is no reasonable differentiation with respect to allowing these uses, but not allowing a brewery or meadery or distillery,” her husband said.

Craig is deeply disturbed that, after all the money and years he has poured into the farm, after winning that prestigious provincial agricultural award, the township’s position on their site plan is that beer is not an agricultural product.

Apply for a zoning-bylaw amendment in hopes that the township would be amenable to their particular plans would not change the municipality’s position that beer is not an agricultural product, he said. And it would not change their position that a brewery is not an agricultural processing use.

Thatcher-Craig hopes the adjudicators will keep the big picture in mind.

“It’s not about us trying to have a small nanobrewery and other hops products. This could be any other farmer growing a crop they don’t approve of,” she said.

“We are dealing with such horrific conditions on every level now as farmers – politicians using us as pawns, climate change. You have to be ready to change in a heartbeat. Our heads are spinning off our shoulders. Now, local politicians thinking they can outlaw crops adds another layer.”

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