Persephone Brewing ordered to move from Agricultural Land Reserve

Craft beer darling, and Sunshine Coast favourite Persephone Brewing Company has been given two years to relocate its facilities off its current premises in British Columbia’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). On December 19th, 2016 the Agricultural Land Commission (South Coast Panel) released the reasons of its decision not to permit Persephone to continue to operate at its 11 acre property located at 1053 Stewart Road in Gibsons, BC. The reasons can be found here.

Although branded as a “farm-based brewery” the Commission found that Persephone’s operations fail to meet the requirements of a “farm use” and was therefore operating in contravention of the Agriculture Land Commission Act and Regulation.

The decision of the Commission pits two consumer groups whose interests are traditionally aligned: craft beer enthusiasts and local produce supporters, against the other creating an unusual and somewhat uncomfortable dynamic.

Persephone Brewing’s operations include a tasting room, outdoor seating area, and a food truck. The property also functions as a farm: hops are grown on the property, as well as some produce. Importantly, and also the source of controversy, the property is located within the ALR.

The ALR was originally set up to preserve British Columbia’s limited agricultural land resource, and operates as a land-use zone in which agriculture is recognized as the primary use.  The ALR comprises just 5% of BC’s total land base and is the area with the greatest agricultural capacity. As a finite and valuable resource, the province has decided to protect this land from gradual erosion by non-farming uses.

Though farming and ranching activities on the ALR are encouraged, some non-agricultural uses are permitted if they are considered compatible with agriculture and have low impacts on the land base, examples include pet kennelling or breeding and equestrian facilities. Recently the operation of a brewery, distillery or meadery was designated as a farm use in the ALR provided “at least 50% of the farm product used to make the beer, spirits or mead produced each year is grown on the farm on which that brewery, distillery or meadery is located.” 

Unlike wineries and cideries, breweries cannot purchase product under contract from another grower to meet the 50% threshold. However, there is no requirement for a brewery to grow product on the parcel of land on which the brewery or distillery is located. To meet the 50% threshold a farm-based brewery can be comprised of several parcels of land owned or operated by the farm business where on one parcel the brewery operates and on another the grains are grown.

The 50% threshold is measured by the quantity of farm product processed calculated on an annual basis. According to the ALR policy, for beer the farm product will be grain and not hops due to the small quantities of hops involved in the beer making process. In the case of beer water is not considered a farm product, and the in case of distilled products neutral grain spirit (imported alcohol) is not a farm product. The 50% threshold will be based on the farm product used to make the alcohol (grains, corn, potatoes, sugar beets, etc.) and not the botanicals or other flavouring used in the final product due to their smaller proportions.

In its reasons the Commission confirmed Persephone has been operating on the property since 2013, which pre-dates the inclusion of breweries as a permitted farm use in the ALR. Prior to the Regulation amendment in 2015 the Commission had consistently told land owners and brewers that breweries were not permitted on the ALR.

Persephone submitted to the Commission that it currently grows hops on the property which are used in the brewing process, but conceded that all the barley used by the brewery is sourced from other locations not associated with the farm.  On that basis the Commission found that Persephone Brewing has historically been, and is currently, operating in contravention of the Agriculture Land Commission Act and Regulation and refused Persephone’s request to continue operating on the ALR. To provide Persephone with a reasonable amount of time to relocate its operations the Commission will defer enforcement of the decision for two years.

The Commission’s decision raises interesting questions: is the current 50% threshold too high? Should the Regulation be amended to permit farm-based breweries to contract for barley from elsewhere in BC? Are breweries a good gateway to get the public interested and engaged in farming? Or are breweries best kept off fertile lands reserved for agriculture?

Apparently Persephone has no intention of leaving the property and intends to seek an appeal of the decision. Alcohol & Advocacy will be monitoring the situation closely.

*Alcohol & Advocacy publishes articles for information purposes only. They are not a substitute for legal advice, and persons requiring such advice should consult legal counsel

Dan Coles
Retired bartender. Young lawyer. From the East, living in the West. Interested in British Columbia's producers and purveyors of wine, beer and spirits.