Within weeks, Richard Leblanc of Woodwynn Farms will begin recruiting people from Victoria’s homeless community to start a new chapter in their life, working on an organic farm and sleeping in tents on his farm in Central Saanich.
Campsites are a far cry from the housing he hoped to build, but Leblanc calls it an interim step in his Creating Homefulness Society’s vision.
Two weeks ago, the Agricultural Land Commission rejected the society’s application to build housing for 120 people on the farm on one per cent of the land.
According to its decision, released April 21, the commission does not believe housing needs to be located within the Agricultural Land Reserve, given the proximity of land outside the reserve.
“The commission is approached by similar organizations with varying degrees of agriculture as part of their programming on a regular basis and is very wary of permitting this type of institutional use within the ALR,” the decision reads.
On Tuesday night, the Creating Homefulness Society board met to regroup.
“This is a major disappointment,” said Leblanc, the society’s executive director. The board, however, is “undaunted,” he said.
The farm is zoned for approximately 10 campsites. That means Leblanc can still create a community on the farm – it just won’t be as comfortable.
“We’re going to bring on some Porta-Pottys and a fire pit,” he said.
Eventually, Leblanc plans to resubmit a new application to the commission.
As well as housing, his proposal included repurposing 16 structures on the farm into a processing plant to make jams and jellies, a café and office rooms.
The society’s goal is to diversify the farms’ products to decrease its dependence on government grants and to teach a variety of skills, including farming, service and administrative.
The board’s change in course also has repercussions for Leblanc himself.
For the past 80 nights, Leblanc has slept in a van downtown as part of his campaign. He’d committed to living this way until 2,012 people wrote letters of support and the same number donated 99 cents a day to the cause.
“It’s forcing me to shift gears,” he said. “If we’re having far more activity on the land, then I need to shift my attentions and energies and time back to Woodwynn.”
While looking forward to returning to a warm, soft bed and a shower, Leblanc said, “I’m disappointed that we didn’t bring it to the end we originally hoped.”
At the same time, he said, dialogue in the community about Woodwynn “went through the roof.”