Frustrated that Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) has refused to revisit Persephone Brewing’s request for an exemption to regulations so it can continue to operate a craft brewery at its present site, Persephone launched an online petition on March 1.
The petition, at change.org, asks the Minister of Agriculture to make regulatory changes so that farm-based breweries are treated the same way as cideries and wineries.
Under ALC rules, breweries, distilleries and meaderies are required to grow at least 50 per cent of their major ingredient on site. Wineries and cideries do not have to meet the 50 per cent requirement; they are able to buy ingredients from other BC farms.
Although the brewery has planted five acres of hops on its 11-acre property, the ALC does not consider hops to be a major ingredient in beer, only a flavouring. Persephone’s Stewart Road property is not suitable for farming barley, and even if it were, the site is not large enough to grow sufficient grain.
Persephone can keep most of its operations even if it does not get a change of regulations or an exemption. The farm has planted apple trees and they also hold a farm-based cider licence. “The cidery lets us grow, have a lounge, serve food, host events, use a picnic area, etc. Everything except the activity of making beer,” said owner Brian Smith.
However, if the ALC’s policies remain unchanged, the brewery will have to move its manufacturing operation to a site outside the Agricultural Land Reserve. And that may make the operation financially unviable.
“We’re going to fight this tooth and nail because not only do we believe in our model but we’re seeing more and more farmers come out of the woodwork to say that they want to beer farm too,” said Smith.
Other BC craft breweries facing the same challenge include Crannog Ales, based on a 10-acre hop farm in Sorrento. Persephone’s petition is endorsed by the BC Craft Brewers Guild, BC Hop Growers Association, The Campaign for Real Ale Society of BC and the Organic Hop Growers Association.
“BC Wine is a $2 billion dollar industry,” reads the petition. “We believe that breweries can similarly have a positive economic impact in BC, while contributing to both the cultural and agricultural aspects of our communities.”
With a provincial election imminent, Persephone’s team are eager to pursue the issue, but they also have a farm to run.
“We have fields to prepare, greenhouses to re-skin, apple trees to plant, irrigation lines to run, compost to spread, and by the end of the month we’ll have 25-hundred-plus hop rhizomes asking to be in the ground,” said Smith. “So, as we get into the election period, we are going to have to choose between getting to work on the farm or continuing lobbying.”
As of March 13, Persephone’s petition had almost reached its goal of 2,500 signatures. Donna McMahon