A Saanich woman vows to keep open the fruit stand she runs outside her home as a form of personal therapy, while giving back to the community.
“It’s an extension of our home, it’s extension to our lives,” said Katherine Little of her fruit stand that she opened in July 2018. “It is an absolute part of our community, and for one person to say ‘they don’t think so’ and ruin it for everybody, is just not fair. I get life is not fair. I have had a lot of unfair in my life, and this [stand] seemed fair to me. This seemed like my balance.”
She made those comments as the clocks ticks down towards a deadline to close down the stand by June 6.
The deadline itself stems from a bylaw complaint against Little six weeks ago, that focuses on two elements of the operations:its signage (a sign placed on a hydro-pole since removed and a sandwich-board style sign which has remained in place) and the actual stand.
Saanich’s bylaw enforcement model follows a complaint-driven process. If staff receive a complaint, they follow up.
“It is important to note that municipal property is not zoned for individual business use, and retail sales are not permitted on most residential property,” said Kelsie McLeod, a spokesperson for the District of Saanich. “Saanich staff are always available to assist with any questions about zoning bylaws. We recommend that residents contact us if they’re unsure of the parameters.”
The origin of the operation dates back to July 2018, when her husband built the stand as a birthday present as their Queensbury Avenue home within shouting distance of Saanich’s Cedar Hill Golf Course includes a 50-foot long raspberry bush. “We didn’t want to throw the berries out, and we can only give them to so many people.”
So Little started to preserve them in a commercial kitchen rented from the Mustard Seed Society, expanding her offerings over time, thanks in part to friends and family, who were donating surplus fruit. “It’s fruit that would have to gone to waste on the ground,” she said.
For Little though, the stand is more than just an enterprise. Little worked for Canada Borders Services in Vancouver for 18 years before suffering injuries in the line of duty six years ago that left her physically unable to work and with post-traumatic stress disorder. “I have been mentally and physically retired,” she said.
The stand, however, gave her a reason to keep going, and the response from the community to her offerings has only encouraged her to keep going. “This helped, and I didn’t think it was going to,” she said. “If this wasn’t working, if nobody was buying the jam, and if nobody wanted the salsa, and if nobody was writing those little notes [of support], it wouldn’t be here.”
Residents for their parts have rallied behind Little since Saanich launched the bylaw enforcement process about six weeks ago, an experience that she remembers well.
“I’m not an emotional person,” she said. “Eighteen years in law enforcement, you grow a thick skin, [but] I was actually in tears, when that bylaw [enforcement officer] left, because this feels like a member of the family, this feels like a member of the community,” she said. “People are outraged that Saanich is taking it away, not only from us, but also from them.”
To underscore this point, Little shows a thick binder containing testimonials from some 700 people, who have shown their support . While these efforts have not yet convinced Saanich to show leniency, Little said she and her husband strategize every night on how to save the stand.
McLeod said staff have worked with Little in offering options for an alternative business model, such as selling the products at a farmers’ market or online. “We will continue to work positively and respectfully with the owner to ensure they are in compliance with the applicable bylaw,” said McLeod.
While Little acknowledged that she could sell her fares at a farmers’ market, something bigger is at stake.
“Absolutely, I’m fighting for this,” she said. “I’m fighting for the principle. I’m fighting for me to have something to do all day long because I can’t work, and this is a good [community] resource for fruit that would otherwise be just chucked away. We are not giving up.”