Farmers in rural Hamilton say a city crackdown on roadside signs threatens their livelihood, works against the campaign to eat local food and contradicts the aim of Ontario's Greenbelt Act.
Wes Vandevrie, who grows organic vegetables on Weir Road North in Lynden, says customers can't find him without a small sign on a neighbour's property, which fronts on Governor's Road.
But he said an officer enforcing Hamilton's new, citywide sign bylaw recently ordered him to move the sign or have it removed and face a $250 fine. He complied, but said, "This will shut me down, basically."
Judy Musitano, a grower who also runs the Farm Fresh Country Market in Stoney Creek, said removal of signs "is hitting the whole rural area. And it runs counter to the eat local movement, which aims to support local agriculture."
Debbie Spence, speaking for the economic development and planning department, said the recently reorganized bylaw enforcement squad began proactively enforcing the 2007 sign law last August.
Signs advertising seasonal produce or Christmas trees, primarily grown where they are being sold, do not require a permit, but can be displayed only during the season the produce is available.
Councillors Dave Mitchell and Rob Pasuta, who represent much of rural Hamilton, said they're irate because farm signs were to be exempt. They are hearing reports of all kinds of signs removed from many different areas.
"I am really upset," Pasuta said yesterday. "This is a poor excuse for bylaw judgment. It's embarrassing."
Mitchell said: "The abuse of power is absolutely pathetic."
The two said they would ask council next week to direct staff to amend the law.
Bernhard Mausberg, president of Ontario's Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, said the crackdown is as ridiculous as "telling Don Cherry he can't wear outrageous ties on Hockey Night in Canada."
"I don't get it. What is the problem? The city is shooting itself in the foot. If Hamilton wants to be the city that feeds itself, why prohibit the people growing food from advertising it?"
Carl Loewith, an Ancaster farmer who sits on the city's Agricultural and Rural Areas Advisory Committee, said rules are needed, but the city should be doing all it can to encourage local growers.
The Ontario legislature passed a private member's bill last December easing farm sign rules on provincial highways after a Norfolk County asparagus grower's business sign was ruled illegal.