The clock is ticking for Persephone Brewing Co. after a panel of the Agricultural Land Commission gave the Sunshine Coast’s farm-based brewery two years to comply with provincial regulations, or halt operations.
Persephone had hoped to get around a requirement that it grow at least 50 per cent of the raw material for its beer on its 11-acre site outside Gibsons by growing hops and other crops, but the South Coast panel of the Agricultural Land Commission decided otherwise.
Despite the support of the Sunshine Coast Regional District and a recent award for sustainable land use from the Real Estate Foundation of B.C., the award-winning craft brewery faces eviction from its own farm.
The irony is that Persephone is the only landowner in the immediate area that is farming — in their case vegetables, honey, apples and about five acres of hops which they use on site — according to CEO Brian Smith. Nearby Agricultural Land Reserve parcels are being used for estate-style residences.
Brewery founders Smith and Vancouver-based social entrepreneur Mark Brand had hoped that clearing the land and expanding the area being actively farmed would be enough to win an exception to the Agricultural Land Commission Act, which is intended to protect farmland for agricultural uses.
“The ALR regulations are worded such that Persephone was required to apply for ‘non-farm use’ of our agricultural land, although common sense demonstrates that we are, in fact, a farm,” said Smith in an open letter to Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick.
But the South Coast panel decided the brewery has been operating outside the rules and supports moving the brewery to a non-ALR location. The 50-per-cent rule applies to grain used for brewing or distilling and honey for mead — but wineries can get virtually all their grapes from other farms.
Hopes that the Agricultural Land Commission executive would reconsider the Persephone application were dashed by chairman Frank Leonard.
“I’ve decided it won’t be reconsidered,” Leonard said on Monday. “The panel has made a decision that is consistent with the (Agricultural Land Commission Act) and the regulation.”
Persephone is still entitled to appeal the decision if there is new evidence or if evidence already presented was in error.
Recent changes to the act were introduced in 2015 to encourage breweries to set up on farms, joining several hundred farm-based wineries. Breweries haven’t jumped on board.
Persephone Brewing Co. CEO Brian Smith in the brewery’s hop yard in Gibsons.
Persephone Brewing Co. CEO Brian Smith in the brewery’s hop yard in Gibsons. SIMON HAYTER / PNG
“I’ve heard from (five or six) farmers who have been wanting to open breweries or distilleries on their ALR land who are basically waiting to see what happens with Persephone,” said Smith.
Letnick is not yet ready to declare the 50-per-cent rule a failure, noting that at least one meadery has opened on Vancouver Island under the new rules.
Regulations that allow wineries to source grapes from other farms were not extended to breweries because of concerns that breweries would set up on good agricultural land without benefit to agriculture, said Letnick.
“I encourage people who want to apply to the land commission for non-farm uses that are outside the changes we have made to do so,” said Letnick in an interview. “Those decisions are made independent of government.”
Persephone and local beer blogger Barley Mowat are encouraging beer lovers to lobby Letnick for change to the law to put breweries on an equal footing with wineries.